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U.K. Mobile Phones To Carry Health Warnings
The Standard
Journalist: Laura Rohde
November 27, 2000

The final wording is being worked out, and by Christmas, all mobile telephone handsets sold in the U.K. will come with leaflets warning of the potential health risks the technology may pose to children, the U.K.'s Department of Health said on Monday.

"The leaflets should be available in the shops, probably before Christmas, but we don't know exactly what date or exactly what they will say," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health who asked not to be named.

Already 34 million mobile handsets have been sold in the U.K., according to the Federation of the Electronics Industry, a group representing the mobile telephone industry. Some estimates have put a quarter of those users under the age of 18, though the FEI feels that number "may be a little bit high," according to an FEI spokeswoman who asked not to be named. About 4.5 million handsets were bought at Christmas last year, and sales are expected to be high again this holiday season, the FEI spokeswoman said.

The government leaflets are expected to warn parents to monitor and limit the amount of time children spend talking on the mobile handsets. The warning is based a report published in May by the U.K.'s Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), entitled "Mobile Phones and Health." The report is known as the Stewart Report after William Stewart, chairman of the IEGMP.

The report singled out mobile phone use by children, the elderly and the infirm as cause for concern. "Children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head and a longer lifetime of exposure. We believe that the widespread use of mobile phone by children for nonessential calls should be discouraged," Stewart said in a press conference in May.

The IEGMP did not set out guidelines for how many minutes per day would be considered safe for a child to use a mobile phone, nor did the group give its age definition of a "child." But the report did, however, urge the mobile phone industry to "refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children." Some companies currently allow for cheaper phone usage after 6 p.m.

At the time, the Department of Health publicly welcomed the report's findings, adding that the government has already commissioned an additional "multimillion-pound research strategy, spanning several years." The department said it would print leaflets to be enclosed with mobile phones, warning of possible health risks to children, according to Yvette Cooper, minister for public health.

"The leaflets aren't really news. I guess it's the fact that we're almost ready to publish them that is causing attention," said a Department of Health spokeswoman on Monday.

Two articles published on Friday in the medical journal the Lancet presented conflicting views on the safety of mobile phones. The Lancet articles, by Dr Kenneth Rothman, of Epidemiology Resources in Boston, and Gerard Hyland, a theoretical biophysicist at the University of Warwick in England, look at the issue from the viewpoints of epidemiology and mechanism, respectively.

In his Lancet article, Rothman found that driving while using mobile phones was the greatest health risk posed by the technology. Heavy mobile users were involved in twice as many fatal road accidents as light users, according to Rothman. The Stewart Report recommended that drivers

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