A new study by an Indian-origin neurosurgeon has shown that cell phone use could kill more people than smoking, because of its possible association with brain cancer.
Dr Vini Khurana, a staff specialist neurosurgeon at the Canberra Hospital and an associate professor of neurosurgery at the Australian National University, said that heavy usage of mobile phones might turn out to be a greater threat to human health than smoking and even asbestos.
To support his finding, Khurana conducted a 15-month "critical review" of the link between mobile phones and malignant brain tumours, and said that using mobiles for more than 10 years could result in more than double the risk of brain cancer.
In order to curb this danger, he has urged for "immediate and decisive steps" by industry and governments to reduce people's exposure to invisible electromagnetic radiation emitted by handsets. He has also asked to begin a "solid scientific study" observing heavy mobile phone users for a period of at least 10-15 years.
"It is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking, and directly concerns all of us, particularly the younger generation, including very young children," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Khurana, as saying.
However, he added it's not that smoking was better for people than using mobile phones, but mobile-phone related health issues were a lot more dangerous and affected a far greater number of people.
He pointed out that there were currently 3 billion mobile phone users worldwide, and the number is growing with each passing day. In fact, people started using them as young as three.
He underlined that mobile phone radiation could result in heating up the side of the head or potentially thermoelectrically interact with the brain, while Bluetooth devices and "unshielded" headsets could "convert the user's head into an effective, potentially self-harming antenna".
Khurana indicated that there had been increased reports of brain tumours linked with heavy and prolonged mobile phone use, particularly on the same side as the person's "preferred ear" for making calls.
However, Chris Althaus, chief executive of the industry body, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, rejected Khurana's conclusions, saying handsets were designed, built and tested to comply with strict science-based guidelines and also pointed out to a 2000 World Health Organisation (WHO) fact sheet, which said no recent reviews had concluded that exposure to the radiofrequency fields from mobile phones and their base stations caused any adverse health consequences.
But this was denied by WHO, saying that there were "gaps in knowledge" that required further research to better assess health risks, which would take several years to complete. Even Khurana said that the WHO fact sheet was irrelevant in this instance because "most of the worrisome data has been surfacing in the last 12-24 months".
Another fact sheet on the NSW Cancer Council's website said stressed for further research as not much was known on the long-term effects of electromagnetic field exposure.
Khurana said that there's a time-gap of 10-20 years between the starting of regular mobile phone usage to the diagnosis of a malignant solid brain tumour. And the link between mobile phones and brain tumours had not yet been "definitively proven" because widespread mobile phone usage started in the mid-1980s and solid tumours might take several years to form.
"In the years 2008-2012, we will have reached the appropriate length of follow-up time to begin to definitively observe the impact of this global technology on brain tumour incidence rates," said Khurana.
However, he stressed that there was already enough evidence to warrant industry and governments taking immediate action to reduce mobile phone users' exposure to electromagnetic radiation and inform them of potential dangers.
"Worldwide availability and use of appropriately shielded cell phones and hands-free devices including headsets, increased use of landlines and pagers instead of current mobile and cell phones, and restricted use of cellular and cordless phones among children and adults alike are likely to limit the effects of this hysically 'invisible' danger," said Khurana.
The study is published on the website brain-surgery.us.