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As developments in cell phone technology leap forward, the studies of potential health impacts associated with cell phone use present confusing and inconclusive results.

And yet the entrenchment of cell phone use in our daily lives makes it more difficult to function without these wireless devices.

Dr. Devra Davis, an epidemiologist and toxicologist, believes that potential risks associated with cell phone use are being downplayed, similar to the way the hazards of cigarette smoke and toxic chemicals in the home were disregarded for years. Her recent book, Disconnect – the truth about cell phone radiation, investigates the data on cell phones and cancer, as well as the wireless industry’s efforts to stave off regulation.

Davis cites evidence of studies, some decades old, showing that the radio-frequency radiation used by cell phones could indeed have biological effects — enough to damage DNA and potentially contribute to brain tumors. She found that other countries — like France and Israel — had already acted, discouraging the use of cell phones by children and even putting warning signs on handsets. She found evidence of dramatic increases in certain kinds of brain tumors among unusually young patients who were heavy users of cell phones.

“I can’t tell you that cell phones are dangerous, but I can tell you that I’m not sure they’re safe.”

– Devra Davis

And, just as she saw with tobacco and lung cancer, Davis discovered that the wireless industry — often with the help of governments — had discouraged independent scientists who studied cell phones, and helped produced questionable science that effectively clouded the issue. “This is about the most important and unrecognized public health issues of our time,” says Davis.

Cell and wireless phones are a problem because the transmitter, though small, is held against your head, or very near it, and is often held for long periods of time. Microwaves in the frequencies used can cause “holes” in the blood-brain barrier, allowing things usually kept out of the brain into it. They also cause damage to DNA and other cell structures.

Damage is related to age of exposure and the amount of exposure – both the signal strength and the quantity and duration. Effects are greatly reduced by distance from the source.

According to Dr. Davis, the following tips may help mitigate potential harm from cell phone use:

  1. Children and youth under 20 shouldn’t use cell or wireless phones except in emergencies.
  2. Keep cell phones turned off unless absolutely necessary. When they are on, don’t carry them in your pocket or against your body. Keep the back of the phone, where the antenna is, facing away from your body.
  3. Use a headset or wireless headphone with low power. This removes the phone from right beside your brain.
  4. Use your phone only when/where the signal is good. In marginal areas, it steps up its power output, so you are exposed to more radiation.
  5. Text rather than talk. It uses less power and exposes you less. If you need to talk, use your phone on speaker, and keep it further from your head. If you place it on your lap, use a barrier (like a book) between your phone and your body.
  6. Pregnant women should keep cell and wireless phones away from their abdomen, and everyone should keep cell and wireless phones away from babies, children and youth.

Whenever possible, Dr. Davis advises people to use a land-line for phone communications. Land lines work without emitting radiation, and will continue to work when the power goes out.

Until the safety of cell phone use is established conclusively, it seems the best approach for users is to err on the side of caution. The tips outlined above are practical and easy to implement, while enabling users to continue to enjoy the benefits of wireless communication.

Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, by Devra Davis