The State of California has issued health guidelines on mobile phone use, despite there being a lack of scientific evidence to claim that radiation from cellphones poses health risks. The move is being questioned by some policy advocates who argue that even if the advice amounts to a reasonable precaution, the public shouldn’t be advised to act on an unproven danger.
Last week, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued its guidelines on how to reduce exposure to the radiation coming from cell phones, saying that while consensus has yet to be reached, some scientists and health officials believe that the radio frequency energy emitted by mobile and wireless devices may affect human health.
“Although the science is still evolving, there are concerns among some public health professionals and members of the public regarding long-term, high use exposure to the energy emitted by cell phones,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith, in a statement. “We know that simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults.”
The guidelines state that long-term, high use of cell phones “may be linked” to certain types of cancer, and they warn mobile phone users to send text messages instead of talking on their phones and to keep the devices away from one’s head and body when streaming or downloading large files.
“Children’s brains develop through the teenage years and may be more affected by cell phone use,” said Dr. Smith. “Parents should consider reducing the time their children use cell phones and encourage them to turn the devices off at night.”
The CDPH’s list of precautions were reportedly released only after a Sacramento Superior Court judge said she would order them to be disclosed after it was found that the CDPH had for years withheld the guidelines from the public. Yet some are taking issue with release, saying that it could result in undue public worry about an unproven health concern.
“The problem with a government body issuing guidelines on how to avoid something is that it implies the thing should be avoided,” writes Sara Chodosh for Popular Science. “And there’s no evidence that cell phones are dangerous to your health.”
Other health authorities have come out with precautionary measures similar to California’s, however, such as the World Health Organization which in 2011 concluded that cellphone radiation is “possibly carcinogenic” and that the public should take “pragmatic measures to reduce exposure” through using hand-held devices and texting.
In 2014, a Royal Society of Canada expert panel delivered recommendations to Health Canada on the topic, finding that the evidence on cellphone radiation exposure is at this point inconclusive and that Health Canada should pursue further research to clarify any potential links between radiofrequency fields and cancer.
Paul Demers of Cancer Care Ontario chaired the Royal Society panel and insists that the challenge for policymakers is in encouraging protective measures while at the same time not preventing people from going about their daily lives.
“The evidence is pretty mixed [on cellphone exposure],” says Demers in conversation with Cantech Letter. “I think California’s position from what I know of it is pretty reasonable, since it’s a tough position for policymakers.”
“You’re basically saying, ‘You should do this, but we don’t know for sure that there’s a health risk,’ and so it makes it easy for some people to tune you out,” he says, “but for others, it can make them extremely afraid and concerned — and with cellphones, in this day and age, it could really disadvantage you from participating in society if you decide that it’s not worth the risk.”
“You want to be precautionary,” Demers says, “but sometimes it’s hard to communicate that effectively.”