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Kids' Cellphone Use in Spotlight
Toronto Star, July 14, 2005
by Tyler Hamilton and
calls for greater caution around children's use of cellphones are
emerging for the first time in Canada as scientists raise questions
about the impact of radio frequencies on young heads and bodies.
the past few days, several leading international and Canadian health
officials have acknowledged concerns about the potential health risks
of children using cellphones. These cautions come just as the industry,
which says its products are safe, prepares to target pre-teens with
colourful new phones bearing the images of Barbie, Hello Kitty and
certainly advocate precautionary measures for children," said Dr.
Michael Repacholi, co-ordinator of radiation and environmental research
for the World Health Organization, or WHO, during a presentation at an
international conference in Ottawa this week.
children to use headsets or
speakerphones that keep potentially harmful radio waves away from their
heads is one prudent step, he suggested. Some scientists believe children are more vulnerable to
cellphone frequencies because of thinner skulls and developing nervous
comments are a departure from WHO's official position, found on the
organization's website, stating science "does not indicate the need for
any special precautions for use of mobile phones."
new caution follows a Toronto Star investigation into the wireless
industry's new marketing focus on children and what some scientists
view as potential health effects.
now, Canadian health authorities have issued no precautionary messages
on the use of cellphones by children. But voices of concern have been
heard over the past few days.
Monday, Canada's top public health official, Dr. David Butler-Jones,
told the Star that moderation is the best strategy when it comes to
children's use of cellphones. Dr. Sheela Basrur, Ontario's chief public
health officer, has also urged caution and better communication from
governments about the health risks of children using cellphones.
wireless industry maintains that cellphones are safe for adults and
Peter Barnes, chief executive officer of the Canadian Wireless
Telecommunications Association, said his industry relies on the
official policies of organizations such as WHO and Health Canada that
continue to make no distinction between adults and children.
can only support what they say at the official level, rather than the
more informal level of what they say at a conference," he said. "We get
licences to operate, we are told to adhere to limits, which Health
Canada establishes. That's the basis upon which we carry out our
business. We have and will continue to adhere to those limits."
the cellphone industry shifts more of its marketing focus to teenagers
and pre-teens, some scientists and public health officials say more
research is needed.
Canadian scientist heading up a massive international study on
cellphones and cancer is urging the world community to back follow-up
research focused on children.
Dr. Elisabeth Cardis, a top researcher at the France-based
International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of WHO, said the
latest study — the so-called Interphone project — has involved spending
the last few years looking at adults between 30 and 59 for incidences
of head, neck and salivary-gland cancers.
results of the 13-country effort, which includes a three-city
population study from Canada, are currently being analyzed and will
remain confidential until publication, probably in 2006.
who grew up in Ottawa, is now turning her attention to cellphone use by
children, an area that has been the focus of surprisingly little
"We're seriously considering an Interphone kids study," said
Cardis, who made the case for just such a project in June at a WHO
conference in Geneva.
hoping that member countries will contribute to the $400,000 needed to
evaluate the feasibility of an Interphone kids project. She estimated
the final cost of a multi-year, multi-country study at between $10
million and $15 million.
pleas to join the wireless age are getting more persistent, and aimed
at younger targets. If, for parents, it comes down to weighing the
short-term safety benefits against the uncertain long-term health
risks, the question becomes whether they're getting what they need to
make informed decisions.
information about health issues, including emission levels of a phone,
is in the back of user manuals that consumers don't have easy access to
until after the devices have been purchased. The same information is
difficult to find, if not unavailable, on the websites of service
Europe, some health authorities have been urging caution for years.
Britain's national health agency has asked its wireless industry to
refrain from marketing to children, while several authorities in other
European countries have recommended that children be discouraged from
using cellphones for non-essential calls.
Canada has remained quietly on the fence.
is nothing in the science to suggest that children are any more at risk
than adults," said Dr. James McNamee, a scientist with Health Canada's
radiation protection division. "Obviously, the review of the science is
ongoing and we're trying to fill in the knowledge gaps as we can."
family plans, usually offering unlimited calling on evenings and
weekends and free calls between family members any time of the day,
have become an effective way for providers to reach the young without
having to market directly to children.
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