Can mobiles damage your health?

Michel Claessens
Michel ClaessensEditor in chief

Mobile phone addicts might do well to slow down a bit. In the wake of the European GSM standard, the media have been full of tales of migraines or even tumours said to be caused by chronic mobile phone use. (And here I am not referring to the faintness liable to come over us when faced with the phone bill…).

The article on page 38 describes Interphone, the widest-ranging epidemiological study in the world on the health risks of mobile phones. Whilst awaiting the final results, the only conclusion we can come to at present is that no conclusions can be drawn. Caution is called for. The data point to a possible long-term increase in certain tumours among regular users. The problem is that it is hard to find people who have been using mobile phones intensively for more than 10 years.

As a direct consequence, the famous precautionary principle is being ramped up. Suddenly parents are refusing to let their kids use mobile phones and users are adopting earphones. That is because one thing, at least, is sure: now there is reasonable doubt that the mobile phone is completely harmless. The merit of the precautionary principle is that, once harmful effects have been ascertained, it compels research to be conducted into the risks and brings this technical and scientific controversy into the public arena.

In other words, the precautionary principle encourages action. It also reminds us that, like Monsieur Jourdain in Molière’s play ‘The Bourgeois Gentleman’, without being aware of it, we take precautions when we manage and assimilate the sometimes imperceptible risks of everyday life, even though our relationship to risk is to some degree irrational.