It's a close call but the jury's still out on mobile phones


There are more than five billion mobile phones in use worldwide. Yet the debate about their safety rages on. Could something so central to modern life really be a health hazard?

Scientists at the Children with Cancer conference in London this week will advocate that governments adopt the "precautionary principle" – advising phone users to take simple steps to protect themselves and their children from potential and not proven long-term health risks of electromagnetic fields – especially head cancers.

They will call for urgent research into new Office of National Statistics figures that suggest a 50 per cent increase in frontal and temporal lobe tumours – the areas of the brain most susceptible to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones – between 1999 and 2009.

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and Green Party leader, will next week table an Early Day Motion calling for mandatory safety information at the point of sale.

But the Health Protection Agency's new report on the "potential health effects" on mobile phone technologies on Thursday is likely to conclude that there is only one established risk, and that is crashing the car if people talk and drive.

The scientists cannot agree, so what should the public be told? The Department of Health has a confusing online-only leaflet which states that there is no immediate concern, but under-16s should be encouraged to minimise phone use.

In stark contrast, France has banned phones from primary schools and advertising targeted at children, and companies must provide headsets with every phone.

John Cooke, executive director of the Mobile Operators Association, said: "There is no evidence to suggest that warning labels for mobiles are warranted. In fact, there is good evidence that the proliferation of warnings about risk, where there is no good evidence for such risk, is counter-productive and is bad for public health."