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Cell phone safety debated, but cheap alternatives reduce risk

Cellular phones are so ubiquitous these days in the business world that most people can’t imagine being without them. It isn’t unusual for many business people to spend hour after hour on their cell phone on a daily basis, and some people would argue cell phones are one of the most useful devices ever invented.

The effects of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy from cell phone usage have been hotly debated. While there have been some concerns about possible brain tumors linked to cell phone use, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has said that currently the scientific literature relating to the health effects of low level exposure to RF does not demonstrate the existence of any health risk from wireless phones.

However, the FDA said there is not yet enough information to conclude that they pose no risk.

“There is no proof…that wireless phones are absolutely safe,” the FDA states. “If there is a risk from these products — and at this point we do not know that there is — it is probably very small. But if you are concerned about avoiding even potential risks, you can take a few simple steps to minimize your exposure to RF energy. Since time is a key factor in how much exposure a person receives, reducing the amount of time spent using a wireless phone will reduce RF exposure.”

Using a headset and carrying the wireless phone away from your body or using a wireless phone connected to a remote antenna are also ways to reduce exposure.

Dr. Ross Adey chaired a study committee of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) to look at health effects of electric and magnetic fields. Adey, a clinical neurophysiologist who is a distinguished professor of physiology at Loma Linda School of Medicine in Loma Linda, Calif., has concerns about RF from sources such as cellular phones and cellular phone towers.

“The phone industry is trying to sell the public on the notion these things are free from harm,” Adey said. “We and others who have spent 30 years researching the biological spectrum from cells to people have no doubt that there is the possibility of harm from these interactions. We are exposing millions of people in the current situation to a quite powerful radio transmitter held against the head.”

Adey said the most recent work done by the Swedish government showed there is a dose-dependent relationship between cell phone use and cancer. The longer cell phones are used, the greater the risk of cancer.

Samantha Gornstein, spokesperson for Cingular Wireless, said that there are good reasons to consider headphones or earphones for cell phones even if you aren’t concerned about the possible health effects from using wireless phones.

“The main reason would be from a hands-free perspective,” Gorenstein said. “Earphones and headsets are more convenient for customers who are on the go and are helpful when using phones in cars.”

The hand-free devices are inexpensive; you don’t have to buy expensive earphones and headsets to get good sound quality. One of Cingular’s most popular products is an ear-bud headset that starts at $9.99.

“I would recommend that customers visit store locations and experience the different devices to find out what works best for them,” she said. “For anyone who may have concerns, a headset attached to your wireless phone may offer added convenience with less exposure to RF energy. If you have concerns about low-level exposure to RF energy, we suggest that you explore the various headset designs that are available to you.”

Gorenstein said the FDA has urged the wireless phone industry to take a number of steps, including the following:

1. Support needed research into possible biological effects of RF of the type emitted by wireless phones;

2. Design wireless phones in a way that minimizes any RF exposure to the user that is not necessary for device function.

3. Cooperate in providing users of wireless phones with the best possible information on possible effects of wireless phone use on human health.

“Cingular Wireless has supported and will continue to support continued scientific research,” Gorenstein said. “Cingular Wireless will continue to cooperate in providing wireless phone users with health information. We believe that wireless phones are not only convenient tools for communication between people but also are one of the most useful safety devices ever invented, allowing instant communication in many areas where such communication would not otherwise be possible. We also believe that any health issues associated with the use of wireless phones should be addressed honestly and intelligently. We believe that these issues should be addressed by independent, trained public health specialists in consultation with expert scientists. We, therefore, support the FDA’s continued work.”

Jana Long, Cellular South advertising and marketing manager, said the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) and government agencies have said that the scientific evidence to date does not demonstrate any adverse health effects associated with the use of wireless phones. But still the industry committed $25 million for a five-year independent research program in 1993.

“Competent, relevant new research is always welcomed,” Long said. “The wireless industry sees science as a continuing process and is committed to consumer safety and to addressing any concerns that might arise about wireless products.”

Long said Cellular South’s sales of accessories are at a high level, which indicates accessories such as earphones and hands-free kits are very popular with customers. For convenience, Cellular South touts a hands-free kit or an earphone while operating a wireless phone.

Long said an earphone, earbud or hands-free kit will not increase the clarity of your reception. Wireless phones operate on radio waves and the call quality depends on the strength of the radio signal.

Cellular South promotes education as a key starting at the consumer’s point of purchase, as all certified wireless phones have safety tips included in the package. Every Cellular South customer also receives safety tips in their user’s guide when they activate service.

“Some phone manufacturers now package earbuds with the handset,” Long said. “Additionally, some phones now feature voice activated dialing, so calls can be made simply by saying someone’s name rather than

traditional dialing.”

Combined with a hands-free kit, voice activated dialing is one of the newest hands free features available.

Wireless Safety and Courtesy Tips

1. Get to know your wireless phone and its features such as speed dial and redial.

2. When available, use a hands free device.

3. Position your wireless phone within easy reach.

4. Let the person you are speaking with know you are driving; if necessary, suspend the call in heavy traffic or hazardous weather conditions.

5. Do not take notes or look up phone numbers while driving.

6. Dial sensibly and assess the traffic situation. If possible, place calls when you are not moving or before pulling into traffic.

Source: Cellular South

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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