Don't give a mobile to your child, warns expert

No parent should give a child aged eight or under a mobile phone, the chairman of an official safety study said today.

Professor Sir William Stewart, chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), said he believed that mobiles may pose a health risk, although this was not yet proven.

Recent reports from Europe raised concern over possible links between mobile use and tumours in the ear, and any health risk - if it exists - is certain to be greater for children than for adults, he said.

Prof Stewart was speaking ahead of today's publication of a report by the NRPB following up an inconclusive study in 2000 by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, which he also chaired.

The 2000 report recommended a "precautionary" approach to mobiles, urging adults to keep conversations short - and to discourage children from using handsets.

Since then, the NRPB has carried out an expert review of research into the health effects of mobiles and of the base stations and masts which relay signals between phones.

Prof Stewart said that no firm conclusion had been reached on the possible impact of mobile phone technology on the human body.

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "When you come to giving mobile phones to a three to eight-year-old, that can't possibly be right.

"I believe that parents have a responsibility to their children not simply to throw a mobile phone at children and say 'There you go'.

"If there are risks - and we think there may be risks - then the people who are going to be most affected are children, and the younger the child, the greater the danger."

Prof Stewart told Today: "Whilst there is no absolute proof that mobile phones cause health risks, very recently in Sweden there are reports of tumours associated with the auditory nerve by mobile phone users.

"From Europe, there have been reports of ear damage and increased concern around some base stations."

He stressed: "These are new results. They are variable in quality and they still have to be confirmed, and they may never be."

He revealed that today's report will recommend a review of the highly contentious process of planning the location of mobile phone masts.

Many householders have staged protests against the siting of masts near their homes and their children's schools.

Prof Stewart said: "We will suggest that the planning process on base stations needs to be revisited and updated.

"I think it is a very important issue that has to be revisited."

Prof Stewart stressed that mobile phone use was a matter of personal choice, but he added: "Good choices depend on having readily available information. Often there are misconceptions because information is not readily available."

The NRPB is a statutory body advising the Government on radiological issues.

The 2000 report from the IEGMP said there was no substantiated evidence that mobile phone emissions were harmful to health.

But it accepted there may be biological effects below guideline radiation levels and recommended a "precautionary approach".

Around a quarter of primary school children are thought to own a handset. The figure rises to 90% among 11 to 16-year-olds.

The Mobile Operators Association, representing the UK's five UK mobile phone networks, is awaiting today's report with interest.

It said: "Parents need to weigh up the possibility of future unknown health effects against the tangible security benefits provided by this technology.

"All mobile phones sold in the UK comply with international health and safety exposure guidelines set by independent scientific experts."

Children's activity holiday operator Camp Beaumont, which looks after 150,000 youngsters a year at its five centres in the UK, has announced that it will strongly discourage children under 15 years old from bringing mobile phones to sites for social and health reasons.

The company said today: "Last year, 99% of children under 15 did leave mobiles at home and Camp Beaumont's new 2005 brochure, released this month, will emphatically reiterate this policy. The health and safety of the children at our centres are the operator's number one priority."

The Health Minister Rosie Winterton said on the BBD Radio 4 Today programme: "Obviously, there are parents who feel that they want children to have mobile phones for other safety reasons, but we are quite clear that they ought to be very careful.

"At the moment, we have issued guidance to say that certainly there needs to be a precautionary approach to use of mobile phones amongst young people.

"But there is ongoing research both in the case of mobile phones and also on the siting of mobile phone bases."

Mike Dolan, executive director of the Mobile Operators Association, told the programme: "The precautionary approach is accepted by the industry and we have put a whole range of things in place to make sure it does happen.

"The operators reviewed their internal marketing policies and agreed five years ago not to market their products to under-16s for those precautionary reasons.

"This is about precaution, not established risk. It is about parental choice and responsibility.

"We always take the advice of the NRPB and other health authorities very seriously, but there are other reports around the world which don't say there is any risk."

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