John Walsh: I never used to worry that mobiles could damage your health. I worry now

 

Share

I have ghastly suspicions that my teenage daughter may take up smoking. Both her siblings puff away like Stephenson's Rocket, so do the coolest boys in her class. Soon I'll start finding Rizla papers used as bookmarks in her A-level copy of Frankenstein.

A long-term smoker myself, I'll feel pious and hypocritical in alerting her to the dangers of this stupid habit and tell her what awful, day-by-day damage it'll do to her lungs. Then I watch her trit-trotting down the street with her iPhone clamped to her ear or held before her sweet face as she texts and tweets and keeps five conversations going – and I think: is it time we got serious about mobiles?

Will I go on laughing at the warnings that have circled around mobile phone use, like sharks around a sailboat, for 10 years, or start taking them seriously? There have been so many scares. Ten years ago people protested about Tetra radio masts. Tetra stood for "Terrestrial Trunked Radio," a form of microwave mobile communications technology to be used by the emergency services. Country neighbours warned each other the masts transmitted radio waves in frequencies close to the human brain's – and it was true that policemen using Tetra equipment damaged their health. But the protests went unheeded.

When we were told phones had to be switched off on planes in case they monkeyed with cockpit technology, some worried: "If they can bugger up the Artificial Horizon, what might they do to my Non-Artificial Brain?" Then we were warned not to use mobiles in petrol stations because they produced "sparks" that ignited petrol fumes. YouTube showed lots of footage of gas-station explosions, which no one could properly explain.

I pooh-poohed all these things as scare tactics until the other day when a lady behind a Shell garage counter told me about her colleague in Bristol, who burned to death after his phone rang. She explained that electromagnetic waves created enough static electricity to light gasoline fumes. Suddenly I began to believe that all the idiot warnings couldn't be ignored any more.

Two things have clinched it. One was the news that several governments, most recently Israel, want to put warning signs on phones The other was the response of John Cooke, from the Mobile Operators Association: "There is good evidence that the proliferation of warnings about risk, where there is no good evidence for such risk, is counter-productive and bad for public health."

Bad for public health to worry about your child's risk of getting cancer – did you ever hear anything so crass? Are we to ignore the signs until people like Mr Doubting Thomas Cooke are sufficiently impressed by the mortality figures? Or do we wrestle the bloody devices away from our children's heads and tell them: "Text only from now on; and keep your phone in your desk or handbag"? It's an uphill struggle – but it's got to start somewhere.

One wrong word and you're in serious trouble

Here's a cautionary tale about dangerous words. Michel Haddi, the French-Algerian A-List fashion and celebrity photographer, a friend of Clint, Marty, Uma and Cameron, is used to being shown respect as he jets between New York, London and Morocco. So he was surprised to see, on a train rattling to King's Cross, a woman glaring at him as he chatted on his mobile to his agent about a forthcoming exhibition. And even more surprised to be nabbed by police on the platform and told a passenger had fingered him as a terrorist and a paedophile.

Haddi was, understandably, outraged. He is vaguely dark-skinned, but hardly Arabic. And the paedophile accusation? It was, it turned out, occasioned by one word he'd used: "download". He'd been referring to pictures for his exhibition. The suspicious woman knew the word only in relation to child porn. Remember that next time you're in mid-blather on the 7.13 to Orpington.

j.walsh@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police officers attempt to stop illegal migrants from jumping onto trucks headed for Britain in the northeastern French port of Calais on October 29, 2014  

Tighter security in Calais won’t solve the problem

Nigel Morris
 

Football needs its Martin Luther moment, and soon

Boyd Tonkin
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines