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CNN Today

British Government to Issue Report on Cell Phone Safety

Aired May 10, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Cell phones seem to be everywhere these days, but there is new concern over whether they're safe for children: a report commissioned by the British government due tomorrow.

And as CNN's Margaret Lowrey reports, it's already making waves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARGARET LOWREY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An increasingly familiar sight: a youngster on a cell phone, or a mobile, as it's called here. Many parents give them to children as a safety measure, for calling home in an emergency. But the British government now reportedly says these phones may potentially put children at risk, as they are more vulnerable to the phones' radiation emissions. As a precaution, it wants parents to restrict children's usage.

IAN GIBSON, BRITISH PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Young people want to have mobile phones, it's a fashion appendage. But we are going to have to give them very strong warnings about the radioactive effects that come from particular phones, and indeed masks as well.

LOWREY: Details of a report from a government inquiry will be made public Thursday. The British report is said to stress no evidence currently is available that proves the phones are a measurable health hazard.

(on camera): It is not clear yet how the report defines children or what restrictions it recommends. Representatives of the cell phone industry say they'll comment after the report is published. Traditionally, the industry maintains the phones are safe.

(voice-over): Cell phones work through small amounts of microwave radiation transmitted to the phone's antenna. Some experts say if there is a risk, then children would be more vulnerable because their bodies are still developing.

BOB TOMALSKI, GROUP TECHNICAL EDITOR, "WHAT MOBILE PHONE": The thing I'm asking is: if there is a risk, how much risk? Is it the same risk as crossing the road and being mown down by a bus? Is it the same risk as traveling on a plane? Is it the same risk as smoking cigarettes?

LOWREY: No one seems to know for sure, despite years of research. There are an estimated 24 million cell phone users in Britain, with the youth market accounting for about a quarter of all sales. The government's report is also said to call for more research into the effects on youngsters, not because they know a problem exists, but because they don't know.

Margaret Lowrey, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: And as we know, many young people use cell phones these days, at least on an occasional basis.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore joins us now from New York.

And Steve, we don't have details, as was mentioned in Margaret's report, of what they're going to be saying about these ray -- emissions -- radiation emissions. So I guess I would ask you the same question that fellow was asking himself.

What kind of a risk might we be talking about here?

DR. STEVE SALVATORE, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just like they said, Lou, really, nobody knows. But you can know this: the preponderance of the scientific data, pretty much at this point, doesn't seem to show any kind of significant health risk for people who use cellular phones. But you have to understand that this microwave technology, microwave radiation can cause problems in high doses. The problem is, cell phones use very, very low doses and they're not really 100 percent sure how that might affect children.

So what the British are doing is they're kind of getting a little bit ahead of themselves, but they're being precautionary. They're saying: Maybe we shouldn't let children play with these things, use these things until we really know how safe they are.

WATERS; Right.

SALVATORE: So I think it's just precautionary.

WATERS: Those of us parents with children who may, about now, be using a cell phone, recall the story back when, when there were certain suggestions that perhaps these microwave emissions caused brain cancer. So I guess parents should positively sit up and take notice about this but to what degree the risk is, we still don't know.

SALVATORE: Exactly, I mean, we don't know exactly what the risk is at this point. I think it's probably a smart idea for children, if they are going to use cell phone, really limit the use. Only use it for emergencies, it shouldn't be used to chitchat, to call your friends, to make plans for the movies that night or something like that.

And it also might be a good idea to get one of those "hands free" devices. You know those, they plug into the phone and you don't have the antenna close to the head, because that's where the real radiation comes out, from the tip of the head. So it's probably a good idea to go with a hands free a device, limit time, and maybe even go with a beeper instead of cell phone if you really need to contact your kids.

WATERS: That'll be tough sell for teenagers as you probably know. Dr. Steve Salvatore in New York.

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