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

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on 11 November 2013 in Washington  

Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?

Grace Dent
 

Our political landscape is not changing anywhere near as much as we assume it is

Steve Richards
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'