June 1st, 2011
06:46 AM GMT
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(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?

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Martin

    I guess I am glad I haven't signed up for that new cell phone contract. I am thinking of disconnecting and going ALL SKYPE.

    June 1, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  2. Jerkinp

    It would be funny if people started forming something simlar to the National Rifle Association (NRA) in defense of mobile phones. Maybe an (NMA). From My Cold Dead Hands!

    June 1, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  3. Jim

    I was told this link nearly 10 years ago.

    June 1, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  4. Cypthizz

    Bold users being told to keep phone away from body while the device is transmitting.... scary stuff! Considering mine is always tucked in my pocket... I REALLY hope it doesn't pull a Lance Armstrong circa '96 on me.
    Also, imagine the consequences of cancers being caused by cellphones; entire generations gone, a world population drastically declining all in the span of about 50 years, the list goes on.

    June 1, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  5. Lob77

    So how do you make a call holding your cell phone away from your body? Fingers and hands don't count as being part of your body?? Dah!

    June 1, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  6. Narayan Mourya

    Telecom has gone too far.
    Now whatever happens to be it's detrimental effects , no one is going to dare raise voice against it as it has become backbone of world finance.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  7. Igor

    I agree witj the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on the cancer risk of smoking. He was right. Smoking may be dangerous for some people, but not for all people. So I shall not give up a good habit for the sake of a theory or other. I keep talking on my cellphone as I need and enjoy it, Doctors proved that smoking does me no harm, so I keep smoking too.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  8. Igor

    P.S: I don't advise anyone to smoke or talk on cellphone. In my particular case, till now, there are no bad effects on my health that could be descovered by my doctor.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  9. Paul

    The evidence does not exist, and physics dictates that cellular transmissions can never cause radiation. In fact Einstein's Nobel Prize on the photoelectric effect simply explains that there is just not enough energy at the photon level to ionize , I.e. cause radiaion damage. The electromagnetic waves have to be a million times more energetic ( near the UV range).

    The WHO medical experts, who are not scientists, have concluded that they don't have the knowledge to rule on the limited " possible" evidence, so they hide their ignorance with a statement of possibilities. Yes, puppies cause cancer too, well we can't rule it out yet, so it is a "possible cause".

    But the sad part is that the Media loves a good scare story, so unfounded statements of "possible cause" gets reported as DEATH DEVICES.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  10. RDS

    But how do you control corruption, by the time anyone realises the problem people have already been subjected to this problem and the companies have alreday got their money. We knew about this problem in 1990, it's absolutely common sense, I warn users to use their phones as little as possible and do keep it waway from yourself when using it.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  11. chad

    I don't think no one can live without mobile phone now. I like new technology. http://www.dootar.com

    June 1, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  12. Dan

    Paul – what do you mean photons can't cause ionization? Ionizing radiation is incredibly common; even cosmic background radiation can be ionizing. I don't know how you could draw that conclusion from any of Einstein's work – I think you're referring to Einstein's 1921 Nobel, but that work does not support your statement. Also, I think you misunderstand some terms – for example, how is UV light IS comprised of photons (as opposed to being "a million times" more energetic than photons). Also, the study was conducted by the IARC, which has a scientific staff of over 300, so I'm not sure why it matters that the members of the WHO do not themselves have degrees in the sciences.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  13. Andy

    @Paul – the report does not mention that the radio waves themselves are responsible. The EMITTING DEVICE is the responsible one. For example, RADAR waves don't harm anyone. But stay close to a RADAR ANTENNA for long enough and you might find yourself irradiated (and i mean really close as in very close to the emitter itself). So while your argument and physics are sound, it does not change the article. The fact is, radiation amount has decreased severely since the 2000s, now most phones have a 50% SAR value of what was back then. Therefore it is safe to assume that those who use the phone for at most 30-50minutes every day are safe from head cancer (i've been using a phone like this for almost 10 years now, no cancer ) and it is also safe to assume that in 10 years from now the SAR value will be so small, that this report will be useless, as is this article.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  14. Alan

    How can the WHO be so far behind the times – this was known at least 10 years ago!

    June 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  15. equateall

    A few years ago, I had to rely heavily on the mobile phone for my work. I used to experience pain behind the ears, and a constant ringing in the ears even many hours after the use. In addition, I would feel irritable to certain sounds, even when people around me spoke in normal pitch, it used to sound very loud and painful to me.

    I reduced usage of the phone and then the problems have subsided. I noticed the lines on what distance one should hold the phone (it varies by manufacturers) from the ear. Hardly any user follows such advice.

    There have been reports of birds and bees being affected by the mobile towers in some of the places where they used to otherwise throng a lot.

    Is there something more to it than what the industry admits?

    June 1, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  16. Alex Winter

    A good excuse for me to turn off my cellphone.

    June 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  17. MD/PhD Student

    All correlative data, no real substance. Scare tactics by sub-par scientists who are looking for a conclusion and not doing the correct studies.

    Until someone proposes and proves a viable mechanism, I remain thoroughly underwhelmed.

    June 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  18. Phil

    Well hell, the industry says it's safe, so it must be. It is kind of like Tokyo Electric and the Japanese government randomly changing the radiation safety levels daily. One day the number is 100 and the next it is 300. The cell phone industry is out there just like big tobacco was putting on the spin. There are so many children in the world with cell phones glued to the sides of their heads that we are looking at a huge health disaster in the making.

    June 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  19. Adva

    @Martin – And you propably will be using wireless LAN huh? :)

    June 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  20. Quyen

    Oh well, no matter what we try, we can not stop using cell-phone, all we can do is minimize it! Try to put your cell-phone far away from you when you go to sleep and stop carry more than 1 cell-phone around, it just like you carry more than 1 boom around, and when it explore! Hum, guess it too late

    June 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  21. Levin

    After I was laid off in 2009, and my cell phone contract was up. I made a personal decision ( well not really personal since i didnt have an income Ididnt want to pay $80/month for a cell phone bill) anywho after 8 months being unemployed and finally find a job in mid 2010 i decided not to get cell phone anymore. I realized when I was not working, that i didnt need cell phone after all..it was a waste of money.

    June 1, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  22. Paul Harrington

    My wife has Inflammatory Breast Cancer to her left breast. Ever since wireless phones and mobile phones have been out, she has put the phone under her left bra strap for hands free talking. For years she did this. There is no breast cancer in her family and she does not carry the BRCA1 or 2 gene. She feels it is caused by the phones being placed under her left bra strap. The left breast was the infected breast. This type of aggressive cancer is also rare and no one knows how women get it. I feel it is very possible that the phones caused this!

    June 1, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  23. Phil Waste

    Cell Phone Fix

    How many times have you avoided a near accident because someone was talking or texting on their cell phone while driving and damn near killed you or your family? How many times has it been you talking or texting and nearly losing control of your vehicle?

    Many cities, counties and states are passing laws against talking and texting while driving but does it really solve the problem? People are dying; men, women and children are losing their lives daily because of the actions of careless cell phone users. We can, however, fix the phones at the manufacturing level so they won’t work while moving. Yes, I’m saying force the cell phone manufactures to make a simple change in cell phone software to connect the built-in GPS to shut off the phone when the cell phone is moving over 10 miles per hour.

    Hands free phones built into cars would be exempt and could still be used while moving. No laws, no tickets, no cheating, no distraction, no ignoring safety. Problem solved, lives saved and yes a few people inconvenienced, but hey, too bad, pull over if it is that important and let the rest of us drive on our merry way.

    In the last year there has been a 28% increase in auto accidents directly related to cell phone use while driving. How many deaths, injuries, property damage must occur before the cell phone companies fix the problem? Make the software change and the deaths will stop.

    June 1, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  24. Furaha

    New Insurance company should be formulated to compasate us while we have cancer in future
    Its very hard to do Research on this because companies can not fund as this will triger loss on mobile phone sales I congratulat Warren Buffet who never walk with cellphone

    June 1, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  25. Nazim Beltran

    You will only see change rearding this issue only when major class action suits vs the carriers and manufacturers start pouring in...Come on!...it would be so simple to re-engineer devices so that they dont work when placed so close to your brain!!! and use the ear sets instead!!

    June 1, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  26. erasmus

    Your physics is wayyyy off.

    Thank you for correcting him.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  27. Alicia

    My mom used her cell phone a lot back in 2001-2002. She talked with her boyfriend for hours on end. In 2003, she was diagnosed with brain cancer on the side of the head where she used the cell phone. She passed away in 2005. She was convinced that it was from the cell phone. I'm starting to believe that more and more.

    June 1, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  28. Bruno

    Well, I always had afraid to carry my cell phone with me, and now!? The comunication it's very necessary for us and how about the consequences that we've to pay? We use the cell to call to peoples that live in other side of the street... come on, lets walk a little!!!...

    June 1, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  29. Phil

    Overall rates of the relevant cancers have not gone up at the same time that mobile use has skyrocketed. Thus there is no significant carcinogenesis from cell phones. But this is the usual intellectual-media trick of squeezing from the statistical uncertainty and noise a few scraps that combined with the lawyers dream, the "precautionary principle", means we could just have another full scale technology lynching on our hands.

    I wonder – perhaps eventually they will find that even mud huts are carcinogenic...

    June 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  30. ThatsNotTrue:[

    Anther thing that causes cancer............................is anyone surprised, we live in a commercialed world, nothing's natural, the big corporations gets all, air pollution, carbon dioxide ect doesn't matter. Is this even new..................................................................................................................................................................................?

    June 2, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  31. Johome

    You know what? It's news coverage like this that make life hard to live. Not everything I do is going to be good for me thank you. If I choose to, I'll make the decision to eat my Big Mac and use my Blackberry over a strong coffee and cigarette. Good God. Leave the average consumer alone!
    Everything on you stupid television show is "bad scary news". Maybe "bad scary news" is a carcinogen too. Research that!

    June 2, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  32. USA Panda

    I have never owned a cell phone and never really had need of one...and I work in the ER...lol. I've always found it a bit comical how people think they need to be connected all the time or have a Blue Tooth stuck in their ear...like they are so self-important. I also enjoy watching people stress out about their phones being lost or forgetting them at home...it's like watching crack addicts go through withdraw.

    June 2, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  33. David Evans

    Every 10 years someone whips up this anti-cellphone story – it's an ego trip for them – the evidence is no better than oscillations around ZERO. Are you worried about drinking a hot drink ? The heat radiation from it reaching your brain is more than the radiation from using a cellphone.

    Of course some brands of low-power cellphones may of course be behind this publicity trying to boost sales of their brand !

    June 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  34. Mile Madinah

    The question phrase starting with "Can cell industry afford", may sound irrelvant, as they can easily afford to share their voice in every house hold on earth, and one questions, why on earth would they talk about spread of cancer via mobile phones ?
    May be the need of the hour, on a proactive note, is to sponsor such awareness programs through Cellular companies who are well structured with social corporate responsibilities.

    June 5, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  35. post here

    You actually make it appear really easy along with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be actually something which I think I might never understand. It seems too complex and very huge for me. I'm taking a look forward on your next submit, I'll try to get the hang of it!

    June 3, 2012 at 4:42 am |

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