MOBILE PHONES HAVE now been classified as “possibly” carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation, following a report from an international group of experts. The real dangers involved are far from clear – but if you’re worried, there are steps you can take to cut the risk.
It’s generally agreed that if mobiles do pose a danger, it’s because they emit radiation – in a form similar to microwaves and radio waves – which is absorbed by the body. Reducing the amount of radiation you are exposed to will similarly reduce any untoward health effects. Here are eight simple ways to dodge the rays:
- Get a hands-free set and use it. Making calls via an earpiece and microphone will drastically reduce the radiation you absorb while talking. However, it should be a wired setup – Bluetooth headpieces also use radio waves to transmit data, which could be a particular problem if you’re wearing one the whole time.
- Talk on speakerphone. Yes it’s antisocial, but if nobody’s around, even holding your phone a small distance away from your body means substantially less radiation – two inches cuts your exposure by a factor of four. Most handsets will actually advise you to do this, though it’s probably buried in the fine print. The iPhone 4′s manual suggests you should keep it 15mm away from your body while any data is being transmitted – and that includes when it’s in your pocket.
- Don’t let your children use it too much. The Department of Health’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned yesterday that young people should use mobiles for “essential purposes only” and keep calls short. However, Dr Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer which prepared the WHO advice, has noted that this isn’t based on study data – just a general assumption that children’s developing brains and bodies are more vulnerable.
- Stay in high-reception areas. The lower your phone’s signal, the harder it has to work to connect to the nearest tower – so fewer bars on your handset means more radiation while talking. Avoiding conversations in lifts, basements and tunnels will limit your exposure.
- If you have an Android or Blackberry phone, there’s an app called Tawkon which monitors the radiation your mobile is emitting and suggests when you should stop using it. It’s available for iPhone too – but only if your handset is jailbroken, which will void the warranty.
- Buy a lower-emissions phone. You can use this chart to get an idea of the radiation levels your handset uses, and trade down accordingly. Bad news for tech fans, though – in general, smarter phones mean more radiation.
- Talk less. If mobiles are dangerous, it won’t be from any one-off dose of radiation but from the cumulative effect of using it every day, year in, year out. Using text, email or other messaging services instead of making that call might be the simplest way of reducing your exposure.
- Don’t sleep with your phone inches away.The same general rules apply as for speakerphone calls: putting your mobile even a small distance further away will have a substantial effect on any radiation.
It’s probably worth emphasising that cancer risks from phones are still unproven.
The new World Health Organisation rating, which ranks them alongside car exhaust and the pesticide DDT as potential carcinogens, reflects the fact that several studies have shown a possible link between phone use and increased likelihood of a tumour. But as mobile technology is developing so quickly, and cancers can take years to develop, the information available so far is still inconclusive.
Will the WHO report change the way you use your phone?