June 1st, 2011
06:46 AM GMT
(CNN) – The 2005 movie “Thank You for Smoking,” which follows the travails of a media spin doctor for Big Tobacco, ends with our antihero in a boardroom of a new industry client. “So be straight with me – is it true?” he asks the executives in the room.
Muddled, nervous crosstalk ensues until the PR guru raises his hand.
“Look, gentlemen – practice these words in front of the mirror: ‘Although we are constantly exploring the subject, currently there is no evidence that links cell phone usage to brain cancer’.”
The executives audibly sigh with relief.
They aren’t sighing today. On Tuesday the World Health Organization announced that mobile phones are now being categorized as a “possible carcinogen.” The European Environmental Agency has pushed for more studies, saying cell phones could be as big a public health risk as smoking, asbestos and leaded gasoline.
The impact is potentially huge: According to a July study by Ericsson showed there were 5 billion cell phone subscriptions worldwide – compared to about 720 million in 2000.
Wireless industry was quick to respond, with the CTIA-The Wireless Association responded to Tuesday's announcement saying it "does not mean cell phones cause cancer,” adding the WHO “did not conduct any new research, but rather reviewed published studies."
The group writes: “IARC (the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer) conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee … Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results.”
The manufacturers of handsets have already positioned themselves on this contentious issue. The Apple iPhone 4 safety manual says users' radiation exposure should not exceed FCC guidelines: "When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 millimeters (5/8 inch) away from the body."
BlackBerry Bold advises users to "keep the BlackBerry device at least 0.98 inch (25 millimeters) from your body when the BlackBerry device is transmitting."
The idea is to create space that reduces direct contact with radiation, especially the head. Experts also suggest using speakerphone or an earpiece for calls.
But with the growing chorus from medical circles of a perceived threat, could the WHO’s announcement be a watershed moment such as the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on the cancer risk of smoking? Could a raft of class action lawsuits hit the industry as the tobacco industry saw in the 1990s?
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