Are Cell Phones The New Cigarettes?
How many kids do you know aged 11 and older that have their own cell phone? In my son’s class of 11 year olds, all but 5 have their own cellphone. And in spite of the school policy being no cell phones allowed on school grounds, they text each other back and forth in class and many of them keep their cell phone in their front pocket all day, turned on. Needless to say, in spite of knowing the data on cell phone risks, my son is really pressuring me to let him buy himself a cell phone!
He knows that an adult male who has a cell phone in his front pocket for one hour has a drastic reduction in sperm count… yes, you can get that sperm count back up, but still, what’s the cell phone doing to a child who has not even reached puberty, or one who is going through puberty? His response: Who cares? I probably don’t want to have kids anyway.
Of course you don’t. You’re 11. Come talk to me when you’re 30. Ooops, too late. Would that be an example of good mothering?
Nevertheless, I do feel his pain. There’s an entire culture now around texting. And he is excluded from the circle, he cannot participate in the conversation and he is outside the community. That’s pretty heavy and pretty nasty for him.
So… if most of his peers smoked, would I buy him cigarettes so that he could join in the group and not feel excluded?
Cigarettes vs. Cellphones Cancer Risk
Some people have said to me that this is not a fair analogy. Hmmm, I thought, well what is the statistical comparison of these two carcinogens (the W.H.O. has classified microwave RF radiation – WiFi, cellphones, iPads, etc. – as a Class 2b carcinogen)? So I went looking…
The increased lung cancer risk for smokers is:
10% increase at age 30
40% increase at age 50
The increased risk of a brain tumor from a cell phone after 10 years of use is:
420% increase for children who start using a cellphone before the age of 20
And then, funnily enough, I found this video by Magda Havas PhD that directly compares cellphones to cigarettes! She looks at the marketing, the industry CYA, and the health effects…
Still, as I said, I feel my son’s pain and I really don’t want to isolate him or make him feel like an outcast. So I go looking for a different kind of stat that just might allow me to justify him having a cellphone. Because I remember my brother saying to me, “Sure the stats may show a 500% increased risk, but if the normal rate of brain tumors in kids is 1 in 10 million, then even a 500% increase is only going to be 5 kids in 10 million – which is actually a very minute risk.”
Brain Tumor Risk
So I go looking for these stats: If the increased risk of a brain tumor to my child is 420%, then what does this mean in terms of real numbers? How many kids out of 100 will actually get a tumor? AND how does that compare to the number of kids who got tumors before cellphones existed? I figure that will give me a really good picture of the ACTUAL risk to my son (and my daughter, who will likely want one next!). Here’s what I find:
In 1970, before cellphones existed, but when there was still plenty of electropollution from power lines etc., the incidence rate of brain tumors in children were:
10.7 brain tumors per 100,000 children
In 2001, there were:
15.2 brain tumors per 100,000 children
so in 2012, after 10 years of use, a 420% increase would be:
64 brain tumors per 100,000 children (or .00064% risk to children of developing a brain tumor)
Well that’s a relief! That actual risk is miniscule. Yay, I’m off the hook and I can let my son have a cell phone, because really, the risk of him getting a brain tumor from using that cell phone is SO low – only .00064%!!
But then I have another thought: I remember my Mum and I talking about why people didn’t care about the radiation risk from these devices and she theorized it was because they just didn’t believe it would ever happen to them. “Look at car accidents,” she said, “More people have died in car accidents than in every war put together, but people get in their cars without a second thought, every single day, and we would not be wiling to go without them.”
Risk of Brain Tumor vs. Risk of Car Accident Death
So this line of thought makes me wonder… If the risk of brain tumors to children is so low that people obviously don’t think it will happen to their child, so they’re safe… then what is the risk of their child dying in a car accident?
Well blow me if I wasn’t in for another HUGE surprise – brace yourself for this one – the actual incidence of child deaths from not just car accidents, but falls, fire and drowning all combined is…
12 deaths per 100,000 children
Look at those stats again, side by side:
12 deaths per 100,000 children from car accidents, falls, fire and drowning
64 brain tumors per 100,000 children
Are you kidding me? We are mandated by law to strap our kids in with a seatbelt every time we get in a car, to protect them. We have to strap a helmet on their heads when riding a bike, scooter, skateboard etc. to protect them. We have lifeguards at every swimming pool, lake and ocean and kids under age 6 are not even allowed in the pool unless their parent is with them. These are the safety measures society and all us good parents carry out to prevent 12 death per 100,000 children – a risk of .00012%.
Yet the brain tumor rate in those same children is FIVE times higher – 64 kids per 100,000 and we do NOTHING. In fact, we buy them the carcinogenic device, encourage them to use it to keep in touch with us, and send them happily on their way.
And that’s just looking at brain tumors. We haven’t even looked at leukemia, fertility, genetic damage (DNA double-strand breaks), effects on learning, quality of sleep, and all the other documented effects of this type of radiation. Nor have we looked at the cumulative effect of using cellphones, iPads, WiFi computers, baby monitors, Wii, Xbox, Playstation, cordless phones, smart meters and every other wireless device that uses this same microwave RF radiation.
If we look at these same actual incidence numbers for deaths from lung cancer (age adjusted for white people in the U.S.) from the National Cancer Institute, then they are:
25 deaths per 100,000 for women
80 deaths per 100,000 for men
So, you might as well buy your daughter cigarettes, since they’re much safer than a cell phone!
Great. I’m right back where I started.
The logic then follows that if I’m not concerned about radiation to my children’s heads from cellhphones, WiFi, etc. then I also shouldn’t bother strapping them in with a seatbelt, or getting them to wear a helmet. What’s the point? The risk is so small.
And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find a caring mother who didn’t make her child wear a seatbelt in the car. Yet that same mother will hand her child a cellphone, have WiFi internet in the house and buy her kids Xbox, Wii and Playstation all with wireless controllers. WHY?
Why Mothers Don’t Take Action
I think there are 3 reasons: Firstly, we just don’t know. We don’t have the data, and like cigarettes, the mainstream media is publishing story after story about how there’s no risk from these devices. Secondly, everyone around you thinks it’s safe and is buying their kids these devices, so there is massive peer pressure to disregard the data – or not even ask the questions in the first place. It’s the “world is flat” syndrome. Thirdly, because we cannot see, hear, smell or feel this radiation, it doesn’t feel real to us and because it takes a long time for the consequences to manifest, we look around at everyone we know using these devices all day, every day, and everyone’s fine – the risk just doesn’t seem real.
Which just makes it that much harder for those of us who are saying no to our kids. My son feels his strongest argument is, “I’m the only one in my class who doesn’t have a cell phone.” He’s sick of hearing the research, he says it doesn’t feel “real” to him when he is surrounded by people using wireless devices. And he views me as cruel and uncaring that I would subject him to such ostracism from his peers. I’m reminded of this article written by a university student, Vices: Smoking Cigarettes To Make Friends where the author writes:
“While countless parents, teachers, and those guilt-tripping Truth commercials have warned me about the dangers of smoking, I really just don’t give a f**k. Sure, I could save myself the health damages and money if I stop now. On the other hand, I’m young and will probably live forever.”
And when my son is in university, well really, by the time he’s 15 or 16 (or knowing him, even younger), I won’t have much control over what he does outside the house anyway.
In all honesty, after all my research, I still don’t know what to do with all this. In a perfect world, the government wouldn’t take industry payoffs and would force industry to make this technology safe – like what is happening in Switzerland.
Is that too much to ask? Or, like cigarettes, will we have to wait 40 years for that to happen?
P.S. In case you want to know what the increased risk of ipsilateral tumor is for adults who use a cell phone for more than 10 years:
Adults glioma (brain): 90%
Adults acoustic neuroma (ear): 60%
Adults uveal melanoma (eye): 320%