• 03 JAN 08
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    #833: The Vienna Medical Association on children and mobile phone use

    From Martin Weatherall with translation by Katharina Gustav

    –sterreichische Ärztezeitung –ÄZ 22, 25 November 2007

    Children and Mobile Phones
    Caution Is Warranted

    No zero tariffs and no mobile phone advertising targeting children and adolescents, members of the Vienna Medical Association demand. Because of possible health impacts, it is not only this association making recommendations about the cautious use of mobile phones, but the Austrian chief public health officer and the European Environment Agency warn as well.

    By Agnes M. Mühlgassner

    Positions could not be more controversial. While the mobile phone industry vehemently denies any adverse health effects caused by modern telecommunication, the opponents” criticism does not stop. At the forefront of the opposition: the Vienna Medical Association, which in 2005 took up the mobile phone issue for the first time.

    In the meantime quite a few things happened: The information campaign on the cautious use of mobile phones “became a success story” as Walter Dorner, the president of the Vienna Medical Association, pointed out. The accompanying poster with the 10 Medical Rules for Mobile Phone Use was also a success: Up until now, over 21,000 were printed and put up in schools, community halls, etc. The poster is also available in English, French, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Hungarian and Dutch.

    Walter Dorner finds zero tariffs especially bothersome. “We should really do away with them,” he says. He also refuses to recede from his demand for labeling mobile phones with the SAR-value (=specific absorption rate; up to 90% of the emitted RF radiation is absorbed by the user”s head). Banning the advertising that specifically targets children and adolescents is meant to change the image of mobile phones. “The possibility of adverse health effects is real,” the president of the association stresses. By now even the chief public health officer did issue a recommendation about the cautious use of mobile phones, which for Dorner is a “sweeping success.” Warnings are also issued at a European level. Only recently, the European Environment Agency (EEA) explicitly warned about the health risks associated with mobile phones. Background: There seems to be clear evidence that persons who had used their mobile phones for more than 10 years for about 460 hours per year showed an increased brain tumor risk.

    The European Environment Agency also found that today mobile phones are used at an earlier age, longer and more frequently, including children and adolescents, the environment advisor of the Vienna Medical Association, Erik Huber, pointed out. After all, 70% of teenagers between 12 and 13 own their own mobile phone; among the 8- to 9-year-olds every fourth child calls it his or her own. “The powerful advertising that conveys a positive image of mobile phones,” Erik Huber sees as a huge problem as well as a “kind of manipulation.” In contrast, science takes a much more sophisticated approach. “Scientists do not argue anymore whether mobile phones are harmful, but how harmful they are.”

    There is evidence for double-stranded DNA breaks; the “missing link” is the causal association. Huber points out that it was only in the mid-1990s that the evidence of a causal association between lung cancer and smoking could be demonstrated. “In the case of mobile phones, I hope it will not take quite as long.” A meta-analysis, for example, revealed that brain tumor risk increased substantially by 200% after ten years of mobile phone use.

    “Children under the age of 16 should never use a mobile phone,” said Huber. For children the health effects are far more serious because their skullcap is much thinner and on top of that it still contains blood-forming bone marrow. “It is assumed that, relatively speaking, microwaves penetrate much deeper into a child”s skull.” This means that even though the penetration depth is similar to that in adults, because of the smaller skull diameter deeper-lying areas are reached. For Huber it is a matter of raising awareness: “When an 8-year-old child starts using a mobile phone, by the age of 30 or 40 his or her head will be exposed to an unprecedented level of RF radiation stress.”

    Huber makes the following concrete demands to the politicians:

    “ Ban of mobile phone advertising targeted at children and adolescents
    “ No zero tariffs
    “ No repudiation of health care professionals
    “ Low-emission mobile phones
    “ SAR labeling for mobile phones

    “Scientists do not argue anymore whether mobile phones are harmful, but how harmful they are.”
    Erik Huber

    The head of the Institute of Environmental Health of the Medical
    University of Vienna, university professor Michael Kundi, calls for epidemiological data, provocation and long-term studies as well as in vitro investigations.

    “The technology was introduced without ever clarifying side-effects. What we need is a scientific risk assessment.” After all, when making a phone call with a mobile phone, “a microwave emitter is held right next to one”s head.”

    When digital mobile phone systems were introduced to Europe at the beginning of the 1990s, estimates of that time assumed that about 20,000 to 40,000 Austrians would make use of this new technology. Kundi also remembers that around the mid-1990s his institute received more frequent inquiries regarding side-effects from mobile phones. According to the statements of an Australian mobile phone service provider, 10,000 studies had existed at that time, all of which could not show any adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones. “A pure mystery,” says Kundi. Such studies did not exist. How many studies did actually exist? Kundi says, “A total of a few hundred.” And he continues, “Today we can start to assess the risk.” The drawback: At the moment we could assess only one technology, which does not exist anymore, that is, the first generation of mobile phones.

    Yet a basic rule in environmental medicine states, “Damage effects can be generalized from equivalent to similar situations.” Thus Kundi deduces, “The knowledge we have about the previous technology is sufficient to devise precautions.”

    “The technology was introduced without ever clarifying side-effects.”
    Michael Kundi

    In the Stewart Report from 1999/2000, it already said that children should be discouraged from using mobile phones. Why? “Data on the long-term impact on children have not yet been forthcoming. But today, many kindergarten children already have a mobile phone and we fear that the earlier use could have an adverse impact on their health.”

    There are actually two studies in the planning stages: one by IARC (International Agency of Research on Cancer from the WHO) about childhood tumors in the head area due to the use of mobile phones; another study shall be part of the 7th EU research program. ….


    Practical Tips

    “ If you take a mobile phone with you, prefer not to put it in the pockets of your pants but in a briefcase or bag you carry with you.
    “ Make longer phone calls from a corded phone.
    “ During sleep, turn mobile phone off and preferably avoid storing it next to your head.
    “ Phone calls from a car: When using an external antenna, the risk decreases towards zero. A Bluetooth hands-free system represents a second source of radiation.
    “ If possible, avoid surfing the wireless Internet; the card will radiate for two to three hours.
    “ No playing games with the mobile phone (except off-line)
    “ Headsets do not reduce exposure; Bluetooth even increases it.

    – Use an airtube headset.
    – Don’t use a microwave phone inside a car/bus/train/elevator, as the signal is reflected back creating a microwave oven effect.
    – Wear a shield between your body and the place that you carry your phone. Do NOT shield the entire phone, as that will cause it to boost the radiation.

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