Ringing the cellphone alarm - Metro US

Ringing the cellphone alarm

It’s the dream toy of today’s kids. Something they can use to play games. Text best friends.

Download the latest Jonas Brothers ring-tone. And call mom. That’s right, kids today want cellphones. A survey we did of 1,000 Canadian tweens shows that almost half of them already have a cellphone.

Parents like the idea, too. Companies are keen to market cellphones as a security tool, a way to stay on top of children’s whereabouts. Some even come with GPS tracking.

Today’s kids are set to become the longest-term users of cellphones, starting at younger ages than ever before. Great for the phone business, but some scientists are ringing a cautionary alarm bell.

I’ve been following the debate about cellphone safety for 15 years. During that time, there have been two huge studies that were supposed to get to the bottom of the question, “Can cellphone radiation cause brain cancer?” The first study was inconclusive, and largely funded by the companies that make phones. I’ve reported on the fact that most of the research money was spent on public relations, not science, allowing companies to stand behind a wall of inconclusive studies showing phones are safe.

But now, there are cracks in that wall. Results from a second big study are trickling out, and some data suggests there is an increased risk of brain tumours. Some scientists say this is cause for concern. Others say the data is flawed.

This isn’t fringe science. The new data comes from a World Health Organization study. It’s the first of its kind to take a look at what happens when people use cellphones over a long period. The final report was due three years ago, but it still hasn’t been released because the scientists involved are deeply divided. And, of course, the repercussions are huge. Billions of dollars are at stake.

And that’s why there is concern about kids. They are a growing cellphone market, and possibly more vulnerable to cellphone radiation. This year, a Swedish scientist released preliminary data that shows kids who start using phones in their teens have a five times higher risk of developing brain cancer.

In the last two years, warnings about kids using cellphones have been issued in Germany, the U.K., France, Belgium, Israel, Russia, India and Finland. But in Canada? Even though this new evidence is out, Health Canada still says, “There is currently no convincing evidence of serious health effects.”

So, until the answer is clear, what should parents do? Cellphones are a useful tool, but kids could limit their use. Make shorter calls. And remember that phones do emit radiation, so try to hold it a few centimetres from your head. Until we know more, a little bit of caution can’t hurt anyone.

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