Health Canada has little to say about cellphone risks for kids
Last Updated: Thursday, January 22, 2009 | 4:18 PM ET
Close to a dozen countries around the world have issued warnings or cautions about children using cellphones, but Health Canada has no similar message for Canadians.
France is about to make it illegal to market cellphones to children under 12. The United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Israel, Russia and India are also advising children limit their use of cellphones.
Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority encourages parents to err on the side of caution, saying radiation from cellphones could pose a health risk but the research into possible effects of prolonged cellphone use is unclear. In Russia, it’s recommended children under 18 not use cellphones at all.
But while a survey conducted by CBC-TV's Marketplace on more than 1,000 Canadian children found almost half of nine- to 13-year-olds now have cellphones, Health Canada gives no such advice about the risks of cellphone use.
'The brain of a child literally is less dense, it's more porous, it's more susceptible to everything.'— Devra Davis, professor of epidemiology
"There is no convincing evidence of increased risk of disease from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy from cellphones," Health Canada said in an email sent to Marketplace. "It is up to each person to decide if they can live with the possibility of an unknown risk from cellphone use."
The agency did offer a warning about other risks associated with using a cellphone.
"Personal safety issues that should be taken into consideration in the use of cellphones by children primarily involve concentration. For example, similar to adults not using a cellphone while driving, children should not use them while riding bicycles," Health Canada wrote.
The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Authority, an industry group, follows Health Canada's recommendations on cellphone use.
"These countries for the most part have come up with precautionary measures without stating that there is any evidence in their view that links this to any significant danger," said Bernard Lord, the former premier of New Brunswick who now heads the authority.
Opinion among scientists on research into the health effects of cellphone use are so divided, a United Nations agency that has been investigating whether radiation from cellphones could lead to cancer in adults has been unable to release its study.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a UN watchdog, was supposed to release the study, known as Interphone, three years ago. It hasn't yet been published because the scientists are divided over parts of the study — particularly over research that suggests long-term users of cellphones are more likely to develop brain cancer.
Knowledge gap significant: epidemiology professor
Devra Davis, a professor of epidemiology and the director of the Centre for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, believes the knowledge gap in the scientific literature is enough reason to keep phones away from kids.
"Because the latency between exposure and brain cancer could be 20 or 30 years … we are basically treating ourselves like lab rats in an experiment without any controls," said Davis.
The brains of adults and children differ when it comes to how they absorb the radiation that cellphones emit, Davis added.
"The brain of a child literally is less dense, it's more porous, it's more susceptible to everything," she said.
Adult brains are thicker and denser, so the radio frequency signal is absorbed less deeply, she said.
The low-level radiation emitted by a cellphone is absorbed more than halfway through the brain of a five-year-old, Davis said.
Interphone author and epidemiologist Elisabeth Cardis is planning another study to be done specifically on children.
"If there's a risk, it's likely going to be higher because of the usage and because of the innate sensitivity of children," Cardis said. "So I think it's very, very important that we study this so urgently."
Marketplace airs Friday nights at 8:30 p.m.
Top News Headlines
- Toronto mayor fired chief of staff for telling him to 'go away and get help'
- CBC News has learned the details of what precipitated the firing of Mark Towhey as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's chief of staff — and it was advice from Towhey that Ford needs to 'get help.' more »
- Federal Court won't remove MPs over robocall allegations
- The Federal Court says it won't throw six MPs out of their seats over allegations of widespread vote suppression through automated robocalls in the 2011 federal election. But Judge Richard Mosley did find that fraud occurred in the election. more »
- Alleged Ford crack video seller not responding to calls
- The journalist who broke the story alleging Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was recorded on video smoking crack cocaine says he may never be able to get his hands on the evidence. more »
- Bridge collapse on Washington interstate drops cars into water
- The Washington State Patrol says the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River at Mount Vernon has collapsed, dumping vehicles and people into the water. more »
Latest Health News Headlines
- 3-D printing of airway tube helps save U.S. baby
- In a medical first, doctors used plastic particles and a 3-D laser printer to create an airway splint to save the life of a baby boy who used to stop breathing nearly every day. more »
- Wait time and primary care reforms stalled
- Shortening wait times for hip and knee replacements, increasing electronic health records and starting a national pharmacare strategy are stalled, according to a new progress report. more »
- Needed: New approaches to defuse 'suicide contagion' among teens
- Mental health experts say we need to find new ways to refer to and discuss suicide, particularly now that a large medical study has confirmed that teens are more susceptible to the idea if they know a schoolmate who died that way. more »
- Fever medicine for infants, children under recall
- Quality concerns with a Chinese producer of acetaminophen have prompted a recall of four fever medications meant for infants and children. more »
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford fires chief of staff
- 2nd suspect in Tim Bosma murder case to plead not guilty
- 2 more arrests linked to hacking death of British soldier
- Duffy says he wants to give Canadians 'the whole story'
- Vancouver man abandons Porsche on B.C. ferry
- Chained-teen's mom wants man who pleaded guilty 'to suffer'
- Montreal lifts boil-water advisory
- B.C. teen saves pet dog in 'terrifying' cougar attack
- Neil Macdonald: Harper no Obama when it comes to dealing with scandals