07/07/2009 - firefly phone marketed specifically at 5 to 9 year olds
Times Online was one of the first media outlets recently to cover the publicity behind the fireFly glowPhone being marketed at children as young as 5 to 9 years old (apparently, 50% of children at this age now own their own phone).
Obviously, in the light of official government advice that children up to the age of 16 should not use their phone except in emergency situations, and the personal opinions of leading scientists in the world on child usage of a phone (see below), this seems like a particularly irresponsible marketing decision. With the steadily increasing research showing a probable association with long term mobile phone usage and an increased risk in developing a typically fatal brain tumour, the idea of promoting any level of mobile phone use for young children is simply exploiting parents' fears for their safety for the sake of extra profits. What makes it worse is the tragic irony that in giving the phone to their children, parents will feel they have made a positive choice with regards to their child's welfare, when the opposite may turn out to be the case.
"We have no idea if they are different in reaction to this sort of radio frequency, but there are reasons why they may be — children react differently to ionising radiation, radioactivity and gamma rays. If you are exposed to too much sunlight as a child, you are far more likely to get skin cancer than if you are exposed as an adult." Professor Lawrie Challis, ex-head of the government funded Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme
"I am therefore globally in agreement with the idea of restricting the use [of cellphones] by children." Dr. Elisabeth Cardis, ex-head of the INTERPHONE mobile phone project when working for IARC until she left earlier this year, now researching at CREAL
"I can't believe that for three to eight year-olds [mobile phones] can be readily justified. There is evidence that at the frequencies used in mobile phone technology, children will absorb more energy (per kilogram of body weight) than adults. A one year old could absorb around double, and a five year old around 60%, more than an adult. Additionally, since children are being exposed to RF radiation from base stations (and from mobile phones) from a younger age than adults, they will have a longer time in which to accumulate exposure over the course of their lives, and a longer time for any delayed effects of exposure to develop." Sir William Stewart, ex-chairperson of the UK Health Protection Agency, lead author of the Stewart Report and ex-scientific advisor to the UK government
"This is a warning sign. It is very worrying. We should be taking precautions. Children under 12 should not use mobiles except in emergencies and that teenagers should use hands-free devices or headsets and concentrate on texting." Professor Lennart Hardell, University of Orebro
"With children, we have reason to be especially careful, children's mobile phone use should be limited" Sisko Saloma, director of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority
Scientists around the world express their concern about mobile phone usage
With the issue in the news for the last couple of weeks, BBC Radio 4 conducted an interview on this exact topic (19 MB real audio file, you will need Real Media player or a cut down alternative to view this file) on Woman's hour on Monday morning (6th of July), involving the lead marketer of the product, a representative from Powerwatch, and a the chief executive of the Irish National Parents Council. The program's primary goal was to highlight the social issues with putting a child of this young age into a position where they would need a phone anyway, as it would imply that they are neither in the care of the parents themselves, nor a trusted adult who can be expected to take the responsibility of contacting the parents should the situation require it.
The mobile phone and health issue was brushed upon, and it covered the fact that government advice is quite clear that children should avoid mobile use wherever possible. It is hard to see a situation where a child would be in a position sufficiently unsupervised where ownership of a phone would be necessary without some breakdown in parental responsibility, but the defence given was that "well, the expectation is that the child wouldn't use the phone more than once a month, maybe even once every two months in exceptional circumstances". This sounds like a very reasonable defence, except it stops holding any water when you look at the website advertising the phone itself: "glowPhone has everything active kids and parents need to keep in touch during their increasingly busy days. The glowPhone features a full color screen, built in games, customizable ringtones and wallpapers. The glowPhone also has a flashlight ... Store up to 50 numbers including dedicated keys for Mom and Dad. PIN protection allows parents to limit incoming and outgoing calls to numbers stored in the phone book". This doesn't like a phone designed for emergency use only - neither the facility to customise the phone or play games lend any credibility to that argument. Also it is unclear why an emergency only contact phone would require 5 numbers, let alone 50, considering the purpose is apparently to put a child in contact with their parents in the case of an emergency.
Also, and tellingly, the fireFly brand (tagline "The mobile phone for mobile kids"!) has another model aimed at older, but still pre- to early teen children, called the flyPhone. It is very clear from the onset that there is no precautionary ideals behind this phone of any kind, opening with the statement that the phone is "a multi-media cell phone with color screen that lets kids take pictures, record videos, listen to MP3s, play games, and send text messages". This phone also comes with a 500-entry phonebook, and shopping software that allows the user to purchase further downloads, videos, games, ringtones, wallpapers, and has a fully integrated texting service, something that the glowPhone was being sold as specifically not having (so it could not be abused as a device for text bullying). All these demonstrate that any pretence that the fireFly brand is being designed purely for an emergency contact point for children to speak to their parents when absolutely necessary. It is very clearly designed to exploit both the desire to have a phone on the market tailored specially to younger children in a way that would appeal, and the desire of parents to restrict the access of their children to the phone with which they are provided. They haven't made any attempt to recommend any restrictions in the usage of the phone to the children, and this shows no respect for the research that has been conducted highlighting the potential brain tumour risk from extended phone usage, nor the government advice that such usage should be explicitly avoided."
- Coverage Article on Times Online
- UK Department of Health advice on Mobile Phones
- Woman's Hour Interview
- fireFly Website
Also in the news
Judge bans a GSM phone mast because of health hazard
On 18 May the district court of Ghent gave a judgment banning the installation of a phone mast in the suburb of Drongen.
In reaching the verdict, the judge took into account the uncertainty about its effects on human health, accepting that this validates the objection of the plaintiffs, who live close to the construction site of the planned mast. "The court has now clearly decreed that the authorities have to take account of health hazards and environmental issues, and not only of the visual criteria, when they make a decision about a planning application." In its judgment, the court recalled a decision taken by a Justice of the Peace in 2000, who declared: "As long as it has not been scientifically proven that radiation is without danger, it should be considered that it is probably dangerous."
Letter of complaint to the World Health Organisation
Henrik Eiriksson, co-ordinator of Mast Victims, has written an excellent letter of complaint to Emilie van Deventer regarding a mobile phone base station study protocol that she claimed existed when talking at a government conference in Copenhagen in 2008.
Despite numerous attempts of communication, there has been no reply from anyone within the World Health Organisation to any of Henrik's correspondence, despite a good paper trail demonstrating that the correspondence was received and signed for by individuals within the organisation. We at Powerwatch also have not heard of any such protocol but would be very interested if one could be forthcoming, especially as it sounds like it was used as an assurance to a government conference despite WHO's statements that they feel research into the health effects from base stations is not necessary.
Highlights of BEMS 2009, Davos
Lloyd Morgan, who attended the full conference, has compiled a very interesting highlights document covering some of the key presentations regarding EMFs and health, and some equally interesting questions and answers from the speakers and delegates who attended.
This includes some very candid admissions from those, such as Joe Morrissey, who strongly proclaimed that there were no known non-thermal/electrical effects of EMF radiation, after a presentation from Art Pilla had demonstrated how EMFs are currently being used to heal injury. It sheds some light on those who, through stubbornness or reasons unknown, refuse to let go of the status quo stance on EMF effects regardless of the evidence presented to them. It also highlighted some astonishing opinions, such as Anssi Auvinen (STUK, and author of one of the INTERPHONE papers) saying that because no obvious signs of increase in brain tumours had been found, the likelihood of an association is very low, despite the obvious issue of the latency period for the tumours being typically 25 years from exposure to the cancer-inducing agent.
Scientists sign letter to Brazilian government regarding ICNIRP guidelines
In response to a decision by the president of Brazil to pass a law adopting ICNIRP guidance levels as the legally binding exposure standard in the country to non ionising electromagnetic fields, a number of leading EMF scientists have signed an open letter explaining that the guidance are now obsolete with regards to the protection of the general public.
Continuing, they urged the government to follow the steps of other countries who have adopted a more precautionary strategy (such as Russia, China, Italy and Switzerland), and recommended the creation of a panel of experts to discuss precautionary technology, laws and advice to further this strategy.
As with the BioInitiative report, the pedigree of the signatories (listed below) is beyond dispute, with three past Bioelectromagnetics Society presidents, the leader of the REFLEX project and the leader of the California EMF Program, as well as other field-leading researchers:
- Dr Franz Adlkofer
- Dr Martin Blank
- Dr Carl Blackman
- Dr Devra Davis
- Dr Om P. Ghandi
- Dr Livio Giuliani
- Ms Elizabeth Kelly
- Dr Michael Kundi
- Dr Henry Lai
- Dr Raymond Richard Neutra
- Dr Leif G. Salford
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