The Cell Phone Industry:
Big Tobacco 2.0?
by Molly Wood, senior editor, May, 2005
So, there's this incredibly popular product that has
widespread consumer use and a massive marketing presence. Nearly everyone uses
it, and it has very high social acceptance, even though some people find it
annoying when it's used in public. It's highly habit-forming; people who use the
product on a regular basis find it almost impossible to live without.
Unfortunately, studies start to appear showing that the
product might be harmful to its users--even cancer-causing. The product's
manufacturers deny the presence of any danger and even spend millions of dollars
trying to discredit the research that points to problems. Then, an insider
emerges, seemingly with proof that the product could be dangerous. The industry
agrees to publish warning data about the product, but continues to maintain that
the product itself is safe for use.
Lawsuits against the product's manufacturers are filed, but all are dismissed.
Industry analysts know that any case that does succeed could start a domino
effect of future lawsuits, which keeps the industry determined to maintain that
the product is harmless, despite increasing evidence to the contrary.
Well, put down your lighter, I'm talking about cell phones. I've already
maintained that I don't like the cell phone industry's iron-clad control over
phone releases and pricing, its ever-lengthening contracts, and the annoying
habit it has of crippling Bluetooth phones so that I can't use them the way I
want to. But it takes only a few minutes of looking into the cell phone
radiation quagmire before I start to think, man, these guys have Big Tobacco 2.0
written all over them. Actually, I'm not the first to think of it, but a recent
article in the University of Washington alumni magazine indicates that the
behaviors aren't going away, even as the potentially damning research continues
OK, I know the obvious differences: I'm sure cell phone
manufacturers are not deliberately making their products more addictive, for
example--although they are, of course, always offering new and improved services
and ever-increasing buckets of minutes, which can't help but encourage us to use
our phones more and more frequently. But, just as Big Tobacco did, the cell
phone industry seems bound and determined to thwart and deny any suggestion that
its product might be dangerous.
A history of bad news
For example, in 1994, University of Washington bioengineering professors Henry
Lai and Narendra Singh found that the DNA in rats' brains was damaged after two
hours of exposure to levels of microwave radiation considered safe by the
government. When Lai and Singh published the research, a leaked memo from
Motorola's head of global strategy, Norm Sandler, talked about ways to minimize
damage by undermining their research, with Sandler writing, "I think that we
have sufficiently war-gamed the Lai/Singh issue." Ouch. Worse, research
biologist Jerry Phillips, who was paid by Motorola to conduct similar testing,
says he was able to duplicate Lai and Singh's findings, but was then asked not
to publish the research and was subsequently shunned by the company. Motorola
says it told Phillips that his findings needed clarification, and the industry
still maintains that Lai and Singh's results have never been duplicated and
can't be considered legitimate.
The biggest Russell Crowe-style insider in this case, though,
is Dr. George Carlo, who was hired by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet
Association to head up a $28 million research program into possible health
effects from cellular phones. Unfortunately, he now says his findings show an
increased rate of brain cancer deaths, development of tumors, and genetic damage
among heavy cell phone users. He wrote this letter of concern to the president
of AT&T Corporation and later went public with his findings after what he
considered to be neglect by the industry. He's since broken with the industry,
become a vocal critic, and coauthored a book called Cell Phones: Invisible
Hazards in the Wireless Age--so you can tell he's on the "cell phones could
cause cancer" side of things.
Meanwhile, more studies keep coming, and they seem to be
getting worse. A study funded by the European Union reported last December that
radio waves from mobile phones do, definitively, damage DNA and other cells in
the body--and that the damage extended to the next generation of cells. Even
though mutated cells are considered a possible cause of cancer, the UK National
Radiological Protection Board said that since the study didn't show that the
damage definitely led to disease, consumers shouldn't worry too much about the
Uh, right. In the meantime, the report recommended that
children use mobile phones only in emergency situations. You know, just in case.
The cell phone industry hasn't commissioned another
large-scale study--at least not publicly--since its fateful encounter with Dr.
Carlo--and why would they? They're in a catch-22. It's a multibillion dollar
industry, and they simply can't afford to find out, definitively, that cell
phones are dangerous.
Worse, just like the tobacco companies, if they start issuing warnings and
precautionary tales now, it'll look like they knew all along that the radio
waves were dangerous, opening them up to major liability claims. They've already
dodged one big, big bullet--an $800 million lawsuit against Motorola and cell
phone carriers was thrown out in 2002, with the judge ruling that there wasn't
sufficient evidence for trial. Since then, neurologist Dr. Christopher Newman,
who filed the lawsuit, has died of brain cancer.
Listen, I use a cell phone, and I'm not trying to scare the
bejesus out of everyone. But I do use a headset when I'm talking for any long
period of time, and I carry that sucker in my purse, not my pocket. (I know you
guys don't have that luxury, but reconsider the briefcase, OK?) And if you're
shopping for a new phone, you might want to check our cell phone radiation chart
to see which ones carry a low dose.
In a few more years, we'll either know for sure that cell
phones can cause cancer, or we'll know they can't. I just hope we don't find out
the hard way--through subpoenaed documents from cell phone makers and carriers
who've been trying to minimize their damages and maximize their profits for more
than a decade.
Cnet.com, 8th March 2005
Cancer Kills 7 in Tower of Terror
by Chris Tate
Residents' fear over radio masts on roof
A block of flats bristling with mobile phone and radio masts has been branded
the Tower of Terror after a grim series of cancer deaths.
Seven residents have died from the disease in the last 18 months alone, with
four receiving treatment for related illnesses. Four others have suffered
Now panic stricken neighbors are desperate to have the masts removed amid fears
the emissions are death rays.
Residents' Association chairman, Bill Marrow, 65, who was recently fitted with a
pacemaker, said: "Every time I get a headache these days I'm worried I could
be the next person to be struck down. The whole block is extremely
concerned. We're all asking who is going to be next?"
Vodaphone and Orange have base stations on top of Liscard House - the block
housing 86 flats in Wallasey, Merseyside - and there is also a radio mast for
the emergency services.
Health chiefs have launched an investigation and offered residents urgent
medical checks. Reg Blackmore, 77, is currently nursing his wife Monica back to
health after she too fell victim to the cancer curse. He said, "We love it
here. It's been a fantastic place to retire to but we are so worried that our
health is suffering with each passing day."
Campaigner Bill accepts there is no scientific proof linking radio masts to
cancer; but said: "I fear that one day someone will come along and tell us we
were right about this. Until then, it is better to be safe than sorry. We're
determined to get these masts removed. We know there is no concrete proof these
masts are causing the cancers but it is not fair to have the worry over our
Birkenhead and Wallasey Primary Care Trust confirmed health checks were on offer
and they would meet residents' requests for data on cancer rates which they can
cross reference with those in their building.
Orange said that it had agreed to co-operate during the probe. A spokesman
added: "Radiation coming from our masts is well below the guidelines. But we
will do everything possible to allay the residents concern."
No one from Vodafone was available for comment.
The People, 15th May 2005
PHILLIP DAY'S COMMENT: Here is another burgeoning industry racing ahead without
fear of the consequences. I have a much better idea for mobile phones. We should
switch the things OFF altogether and get a life. Aside from the radiation,
consider that mobiles ringing a dozen times a day increase stress levels by
making a spontaneous demand on your time. Friends will be able to contact you if
you don't have one; we sometimes forget there was life before Nokia and 'Moto'
and that ghastly 'frog' I wish someone would drop into a blender.
Am I seriously suggesting ditching the mobile? Yes! Do I use one? Not for a
while now. As for the baleful 3G concept of sending pictures of stuck-out
tongues to teenage buddies, resulting in a whole new generation of masts
bristling along the ridge, 'nuff said. Keep one in the glove box if you must (a
phone not a tongue), to ring in traffic accidents like a good citizen, and then
switch the darned thing off and stuff it back in the dark. Email's a serious
enough demand, isn't it? If anyone should be using a mobile phone all over the
world, it's me! And I don't! And there's peace!
Mobile Phone Risks 'Rise in Rural Areas'
by Jenny Hope
Mobile phones are at the centre of a new health scare after scientists found
that users in rural areas may be at higher risk of brain cancer.
Research shows that the chance of developing a malignant brain tumour could be
eight times higher in the countryside compared with towns.
And the risk of developing any brain tumour rises fourfold for country-dwellers
using mobile phones for five years or more, says a study published today. It is
thought the extra risk may be triggered by the higher power output levels from
phones used in rural areas.
Base stations tend to be farther apart outside towns which means the phone needs
to generate higher radiowave intensity to compensate for the poor signal.
This could result in higher exposure to radiation emissions. Experts say there
are no proven health risks to using mobile phones, but they are such a new
phenomenon that problems could still emerge. There are 60 million mobile users
in Britain - up from 9 million in 1998 - with around one quarter aged under 18.
In the latest study from Sweden, researchers looked at more than 1,400 adults
aged 20 to 80 who had been diagnosed with a malignant or benign brain tumour
between 1997 and 2000.
The brain cancer patients were compared with a similar number of healthy adults
living in the same area. Each group was asked to record their daily use of
mobile and cordless phones, according to a report in the journal of Occupational
and Environmental Medicine.
The researchers at University Hospital in Orebro found there was a higher risk
of all types of tumours for people living in rural areas - defined as less than
90,000 inhabitants - compared with towns.
People living in a rural area who had been using a digital mobile phone for more
than three years were over three times more likely to be diagnosed with a brain
than those living in urban areas.
There was a fourfold higher risk for those using a digital mobile phone for five
or more years in the countryside compared with the towns.
An eightfold increase in malignant brain tumours was found in country dwellers
compared to those in towns.
Researchers said the length of time spent on the phone had little impact on the
chances of being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Professor Lennart Hardell, who led the research, said the findings should be
treated with caution because the actual number of brain tumours in areas
classified as rural was very small. "Clearly our results support the notion
that exposure may differ between geographical areas," he added.
"But there is no information on the exact difference between geographical
There are 45,000 base stations fitted with antennae or 'masts' situated 200m to
500m apart in towns and up to 5 km apart in rural areas of the UK.
Alasdair Philips, director of the mobile phone emission pressure group
Powerwatch, said: "It would be sensible for those in areas with a poor signal
to limit their calls."
Mike Dolan, executive director of the Mobile Phone Operators Association, said:
"All mobile handsets in the UK comply with international health and safety
guidelines which apply whether the phones are used in rural or urban areas.
Individual studies must be seen in the light of the total research effort into
mobile phone safety."
Daily Mail, 17th May 2005
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