Mobile phones could be a ‘health time bomb’, say experts who are urging ministers to warn the public.
More than 200 academic studies link use of the devices with serious health conditions such as brain tumours, according to a group of leading scientists.
In a report published yesterday, they say the Government is underplaying the potentially ‘enormous’ health risks – especially for children, whose smaller, thinner skulls are more susceptible to radiation.
Although the experts concede the links are not proven, they argue that ‘schools, phone shops and the healthcare system’ should be enlisted into a campaign to reduce mobile phone use.
Their report states: ‘Both the Government and phone companies could very easily do far more to alert the public, particularly children, to the emerging risks and safety measures.’
It accuses officials of ‘downplaying uncertainty’ over safety, adding: ‘This was the kind of wishful thinking that cost lives with tobacco and asbestos’.
However, critics stress scientists have found inconclusive evidence and a campaign would cause panic. The authors point to several studies linking long-term mobile phone use to development of a rare brain tumour called a glioma.
A 2008 Swedish study suggested children who use mobile phones are five times more likely to develop it.
Other peer-reviewed studies have found inconclusive links to low sperm counts, behavioural problems in children whose mothers used them during pregnancy, and damage to brain cells.
One author, consultant neurosurgeon Kevin O’Neill of Charing Cross Hospital, said the latency period for brain tumours is 30 years so it is possible the consequences of phone use are not yet apparent.
‘Waiting for certainty of harm is a dangerous policy,’ he said.
Professor Denis Henshaw, emeritus professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, advocates cigarette-style warnings on mobile phone packets.
He said: ‘Vast numbers of people are using mobile phones and they could be a time bomb of health problems – not just brain tumours, but also fertility, which would be a serious public health issue.
‘The health effects of smoking alcohol and air pollution are well known and well talked about, and it’s entirely reasonable we should be openly discussing the evidence for this, but it is not happening.
‘We want to close the door before the horse has bolted.’
The report, ‘Mobile phone health risks: the case for action to protect children’, was released by the charity Mobilewise, set up last year.
It says the UK is lagging behind countries such as France, where phones are banned in primary schools, and Canada, where phone shops give out safety leaflets.
But last month, a Danish study of 358,000 people concluded there was no link with brain cancer.
David Spiegelhalter, professor of risk management at Cambridge University, said: ‘Public health campaigns have a cost. With no evidence of current harm, then they can lessen trust in science and increase anxiety.’
John Cooke, executive director of the Mobile Operators Association, said devices sold in the UK are subject to ‘rigorous testing’ and must comply with EU rules on radiation protection drawn up in 2000.
More than 70million mobiles are in use in Britain.
The World Health Organisation admitted in June they may cause cancer, and advised ‘pragmatic’ measures to reduce exposure such as using hands-free kits.
Britain’s Department of Health recommends under-16s use them only for essential calls.