An easy step would be requiring telcos to let buyer know how much electromagnetic radiation phones emit
We're fast becoming a nation of cellphone addicts, compulsively checking our phones for messages all day long, even while we're out driving, walking or having a meal at home.
New Zealanders are one of the highest users of cellphones in the world, and a lot of us have become so addicted to them that we can't switch them off.
According to recent surveys, the average young adult sends about 110 text messages a day, checks their cellphone around 60 times a day, and spends around seven hours a day interacting with their phones in one way or another. Around 20 per cent of people check their phones for messages every 10 minutes, while 75 per cent of 25-29 year olds take their cellphones to bed.
So the news that these devices we have become so dependent upon may be harmful to our health is most unwelcome, and is the reason, no doubt, why most people ignore studies that suggest they may increase our risk of developing cancer, and seize upon studies which suggest they do not.
Headlines around the world trumpeted "cellphones are safe" following an inter-country study (partly funded by industry) that found no conclusive link between heavy cellphone use and brain cancer. But little notice was taken of the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer's decision to classify radiation from cellphones as "possibly carcinogenic".
Nor was any notice taken of a major study by a group of 14 international scientists, called the Bio Initiatives Report, which concluded that people who use cellphones or cordless phones for more than 10 years have significantly higher rates of brain cancer.
Now a new study by French researchers has found that brain cancer rates tripled in people who used their cellphones for more than 15 hours a week, especially if they used them for work.
It's also confirmed those who start using them young, before 20, are most at risk. This may reflect the fact that children and young people are especially vulnerable to the effects of electromagnetic radiation, because it can penetrate more deeply into their smaller heads and brains.
More than a dozen scientific studies have found that electromagnetic radiation from cellphones can affect the electrical activity of our brains, even at low doses, and that people who use cellphones continuously have an increased risk of developing brain tumours.
Around three billion people on the planet own cellphones, and cellphone use is growing exponentially. So you would hope governments would take these studies seriously and seek to reduce our exposure to cellphone radiation, rather than sit on their hands waiting for conclusive proof before taking any action.
A few governments have issued warnings about the potential health risks of cellphones, especially for young children, and prohibited their sale to young children. But most, like ours, have taken a hands-off approach and left the issue of cellphone safety up to the telecommunications industry to monitor.
But as the evidence of potential harm from heavy cellphone use continues to mount, there will be increasing pressure on governments to treat cellphone safety as a public health issue.
At the very least, governments should be taking simple, practical steps to reduce our collective risk, such as reviewing safety standards around electromagnetic radiation, and requiring telcos to inform consumers how much electromagnetic radiation individual cellphones emit, so that consumers can choose phones that emit lower levels of radiation.
Every phone has a rating that measures the amount of radio frequency energy cellphones emit and is absorbed into our heads when we use a cellphone. The higher the so-called SAR rating of a phone, the more radio frequency energy bodies will absorb.
Surely it's not too much to expect our Government to follow countries like Belgium, and require the SAR rating of a phone to be displayed on cellphone packaging and advertising and internet websites, so that consumers can compare SAR ratings.
This simple policy would encourage consumers to purchase lower-emitting cellphones, and, hopefully, spur telecommunications companies to produce lower-emitting phones.
It should also review our out-dated standard on electromagnetic radiation, which is one of the most permissive in the world, and set up an independent body to evaluate the health risks of electromagnetic radiation.