POSTSCRIPT / September 13, 2009 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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If celfon tax won’t kill users, radiation could

PASS-ON TAX: There is no air-tight assurance that the proposed five-centavo tax on cell phone text messages will not be passed on by telecommunications companies to the users, even if the law will order the telcos to absorb the 45.5-percent additional imposition.

It is easy for service providers to pretend to maintain current rates (which are already slapped a 12-percent value-added tax) and to build-in or hide the additional tax in their pricing schemes or recover it by cutting down on their “free” service packages.

On this basis alone, the five-centavo tax measure that both telcos and consumers oppose should be rejected.

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EMISSION RISKS: Another area that the government should study and regulate is the level of wireless emissions from cell phones that have been found to cause or worsen medical conditions in the head and other parts of the body.

Everyday, millions of unsuspecting users press cell phones to their ears or strap them to their bodies without realizing that when these devices send or receive messages (text and calls) they emit radiation that inflicts damage in the long run.

Telcos and phone manufacturers are wont to point out that their emissions are within standards set by US federal regulators. But they fail to mention that such standards, set many years ago, have been overtaken by new research findings.

Globally, there are around four billion mobile phone users. With the Philippines being the cell phone-texting capital of the world, the government should conduct its own study instead of just walking blindly in the footsteps of the US.

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ILL EFFECTS: The Environmental Working Group* (Google-search it) reports that because cell phone technology has been around for just two decades, scientists do not yet fully understand long-term health risks from cell phone radiation.

The EWG reports that recent studies have linked cell phone radiation to:

  • Brain cancer — Two research groups independently analyzed all data from 25 original studies of cell phone users, and identified an increase of 50 to 90 percent in risk for two types of brain tumors: glioma and acoustic neuroma (Hardell 2009, Kundi 2009).
  • Salivary gland tumors — An Israeli study found an increased risk of 50 to 60 percent for salivary gland tumors among people with highest cell phone use (Sadetzki 2008).
  • Behavioral problems — A study of 13,159 Danish children showed an 80-percent elevated risk for emotional and hyperactivity problems among young kids who use cell phones and whose mothers also used cell phones during pregnancy (Divan 2008).
  • Migraines and vertigo — A study of 420,095 Danish adults showed that long-term cell phone users were 10 to 20 percent more likely to be hospitalized for migraines and vertigo than people who took up cell phones more recently. (Schuz 2009).
  • The EWG is a non-profit organization founded in 1993. It pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and its own laboratory tests to expose threats to public health and the environment, and to find solutions.

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BRAIN TUMOR: The EWG reports that with studies of cancer risk producing conflicting results before 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration told consumers that scientists had found no harmful health effects from exposure to cell phone emissions.

But the assurance was based on studies of people who had used cell phones for an average of only three years. The EWG said that was not long enough to develop cancer. Besides, studies at that time had not addressed the risks of longer-term radiation exposure.

But the research gap is closing. The EWG said scientists around the world recently associated serious health problems with using cell phones for 10 years or longer.

It cited a joint study by researchers in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom showing that people who had used cell phones for more than 10 years had “a significantly increased risk of developing glioma, a usually malignant brain tumor, on the side of the head they had favored for phone conversations.”

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EFFECTS ON KIDS: For decades, scientists have known that high doses of the radiofrequency radiation emitted by cell phones can penetrate the body, heat tissues, trigger behavioral problems and damage sensitive tissues like the eyeball and the testicle.

Yet when cell phones went on the market in the 1980s, US federal regulators did not require manufacturers to prove they were safe.

Recent studies raise particular concerns about the impact of cell phone emissions on children.

Research by France Telecom scientists showed that under standard conditions of use, twice as much cell phone radiation would penetrate a child’s thinner, softer skull than an adult’s. These results confirmed earlier findings.

Children will be exposed to cell phone radiation for more years and therefore in greater total amounts than the current generation of adults.

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WHAT TO DO?: Some recommendations:

  • The government should require cell phones to carry labels indicating their radiation emission levels, so buyers could make informed decisions about the phones they want.
  • The cell phone industry should offer phones operating with the least possible radiation, and should make information on a phone’s emissions available at the point of sale.
  • Cell phone users better buy low-radiation devices. Emission levels can be checked at:
  • Users should resort to more texting than calling. When calling, talk through the loudspeaker and keep the phone at a distance.
  • Be careful where you place or strap your cell phone. It may be emitting radiation to your heart, ear, kidney, liver, prostate or testicles.
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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 13, 2009)

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