Cell phone use safer than getting a suntan?

Even as consumers scramble for hands-free kits or radiation absorbing earpieces, Singapore's Health Sciences Authority CEO said that "there is no need for any special precaution (when using) mobile phones".

SINGAPORE--If you stick a light-emitting chip at the back of your mobile phone to reduce your exposure to radiation, you might want to consider using a hands-free kit instead.

According to Stephen Chong, Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) director of Center for Radiation Protection, the hands-free kit is the "only effective device" recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in reducing mobile phone users' exposure to radiation.

Light-emitting devices are currently available from mobile phone accessory shops all over the island, and some retail for as low as S$2 apiece. They are commonly known as "radiation absorbing earpieces", among other terms.

One user, Paul Teo, said he was convinced into buying the chip when a shop attendent claimed that the device would reduce his radiation exposure by as much as 30 percent as it "converts" radiowave into light energy.

However, the WHO has concluded that most of the so-called radiation absorbing earpieces are "generally ineffective", Chong told reporters at a press briefing Thursday evening, although he would not comment specifically on those which are being sold here.

Chong said that such gadgets come in various forms. "It could be a wire mesh shield in the shape of a handphone pouch or a ceramic button."

And will the Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) then step in to regulate these radiation absorbing earpieces?

"We do not regulate mobile phone accessories as long as they do not affect the performance of the phone or reduce the QoS (quality of service of the mobile network)" resulting in dropped calls, replied IDA director of Technical Regulation Lim Choon Sai.

So far, the regulator has received no complaint about the use of these devices, Lim said.

No need for special precaution
Even as consumers scramble for a hands-free kit or one of these radiation absorbing earpieces, the HSA CEO Clarence Tan stressed that "there is no need for any special precaution (when using) mobile phones".

This is because local telecommunications regulations ensure that all cellular phones adhere to international safety standards, such as the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in Europe and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US, said Tan.

Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is so far the best way of measuring mobile phone radiation, showing the absorption of energy by the human body in watts per kilogram (W/kg). The maximum safety limit required by the Singapore government is 2.0 W/kg, he noted.

In addition, Tan claimed that studies of animals exposed to radio frequency fields show no evidence of the exposure directly causing or promoting brain cancer. There is also no scientific evidence of other health risks through mobile phones, he added.

Further research will be conducted by the WHO to conclusively determine the potential harmful effects of long-term explosure to cell phone radiation, Chong added. The study, of which Singapore is a participant, is expected to complete in three to four years.

Even then, many experts have already put forward theories and epidemiological evidence to show that radiation increases risk of cancer.

While the debate goes on, Tan believes that a greater cause of concern remains elsewhere. "The biggest radiation comes from the sun...and many people deliberately expose themselves to it for many reasons, such as to look nice and brown."

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