Sunday, March 28, 2010


All those people on the street talking out loud to themselves ... Gee, what was it like before cell phones, the child in me asks.

I answer, nostalgically -- people moved along glancing at each other, not staring -- some hurrying, most just moving along at a leisurely pace, looking in store windows.

Nowadays, I sort of politely dodge around people who are talking out loud to themselves -- if I spy an earpiece -- okay -- I figure they're normal.

It reminds me of life before people stopped smoking.

A lot of people smoked anywhere, everywhere, whenever they were in the mood. There were whispers that smoking might stunt your growth. Also, rumors that smoking was probably bad for you. Then, people started saying it was definitely bad -- you could get cancer from smoking.

Even so, ads were still in magazines and on television, and smokers always looked especially attractive, more with it, than non-smokers.

But there was serious talk and statistics about lung cancer. And that became "it's an addiction" and lawsuits. Ashtrays disappeared. No Smoking sections appeared in restaurants, then bars, and laws were passed about no smoking in the work place. Then, it was NO SMOKING practically every place, and millions of smokers suffered.

Well, the world changed. Smokers are definitely frowned upon, pitied and generally ostracized. Of course, there are still resolute rebels -- on my street, young, non-conformist females cluster outside their offices at lunchtime, puffing away.

( I edge around them quickly, avoiding deadly second-hand smoke. )

Of course, characters smoke in movies and TV shows. Smokers actually seem ... braver? Maybe they're more attractive because they're "different."

Okay -- cell phones -- more than 270 million people in the U.S. have them. And fancier, more amazing do-it-all-do-everything phones keep appearing in the marketplace.

So, what about the rumors that have been trickling around? Do cell phones cause brain cancer? Are they harmful?

Is this relatively faint buzz the beginning of what we heard before -- before we knew, before it was proved that smoking caused cancer?

In the news, on the internet, in magazines, we keep hearing about cell phone radiation.

We're told: "Cell phones emit low frequency radiation that is stronger than FM radio signals, but still a billionth the intensity of known carcinogens like X-rays. The amount of radiation or SAR levels, (specific absorption rate) varies from model to model, but all fall below the FCC-mandated, maximum absorption rate of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body tissue."

(Um ... what's a kilogram of body tissue? If you're skinny, are you in more danger? And 1.6 watts is um ... similar to what?)

Here's a chart I copied -- ten popular mobile phones, listed with their SAR rates, from the worst to the best:

BLACKBERRY- 8820--1.6; MOTOROLA-I880--1.6;
SONY-ERICKSON-W518A--0.7; SAMSUNG-18000--0.6;

It certainly suggests that you better not buy one of the first three.

Worriers are surfacing, demanding that cell phone radiation rates be published on the phone with warnings. A Maine Congresswoman is publicizing -- "I keep my cell phone off when I'm not using it." The Maine Legislature is debating the bill she submitted, requiring warning labels on phones sold in the state, stating children and pregnant women should keep the device away from the head and body.

The National Cancer Institute and World Orgasnization, basing their conclusions on a study made bfore 2002, claim there isn't evidence to support a health alert. But authorities at major American Unversities, and also in Finland, Israel and France have issued guidelines. San Francisco is trying to get legislation like Maine.

Despite phone manufacturers claims that there's insufficient evidence, a 1995 study showed a two-hour cell phone conversation produced genetic damage in rats' brains.

Mmn ... it does sort of sound like the cigarette story ...

Both my child and adult selves are thinking, keep cell phones out of kids' hands until they're in their teens -- buy phones with the lowest radiation -- it may inspire manufacturers to make the newer phones with even lower radiation.

It'll probably be years until we know if cell phones create cancer, but the crowded street with people talking out loud to themselves is getting more crowded, and life expectancy is getting longer. So why not go with being careful -- use your cell phones less.

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