December 06, 2000, 11:40 AM — THE FINAL WORDING is being worked out, and by Christmas all mobile telephone
handsets sold in the United Kingdom will come with leaflets warning of the potential
health risks the technology may pose to children, the Department of Health said on
"The leaflets should be available in the shops, probably before Christmas, but we
don't know exactly what date or exactly what they will say," said a spokeswoman for the
Department of Health who asked not to be named.
Already 34 million mobile handsets have been sold in the United Kingdom, according
to the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI), a group representing the mobile
telephone industry. Some estimates have put a quarter of those users under the age of
18, although the FEI feels that number "may be a little bit high," according to an FEI
spokeswoman who asked not to be named. About 4.5 million handsets were bought at
Christmas last year, and sales are expected to be high again this holiday season, the
FEI spokeswoman said.
The government leaflets are expected to warn parents to monitor and limit the
amount of time children spend talking on the mobile handsets, a warning which is based
on a report published last May by the United Kingdom's Independent Expert Group on
Mobile Phones (IEGMP), entitled "Mobile Phones and Health" and known as the Stewart
Report after William Stewart, chairman of the IEGMP.
The report singled out mobile phone use by children, the elderly, and the infirm as
cause for increased concern. "Children may be more vulnerable because of their
developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head
and a longer lifetime of exposure. We believe that the widespread use of mobile phones
by children for nonessential calls should be discouraged," Stewart said in a press
conference last May.
The IEGMP did not set out guidelines for how many minutes per day would be
considered safe for a child to use a mobile phone, nor did the group give its age
definition of a child. But the report did, however, urge the mobile phone industry
to "refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children." Some companies
currently allow for cheaper phone usage after 6 p.m.
At the time, the Department of Health publicly welcomed the report's findings,
adding that the government has already commissioned an additional "multimillion pound
research strategy, spanning several years," and that they would print out leaflets to
be sold with mobile phones warning of possible health risks to children, according to
Yvette Cooper, Minister for Public Health.
"The leaflets aren't really news; I guess it's the fact that we're almost ready to
publish them that is causing attention," said the Department of Health spokeswoman on