Health warnings on mobiles reach impasse

It's the manufacturer's responsibility to inform the consumer about the dangers associated with using a mobile phone... right?

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) -- comprised of leading phone companies Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola -- has announced a project that could mean health and safety warnings on mobile phone packaging, according to reports Tuesday.

ZDNet UK News has learnt that both Nokia and Motorola are reluctant to agree with all the initiatives proposed.

A senior analyst at IDC predicts that mobile phone manufacturers could be forced to publish the amount of radiation that their handsets emit -- one of the proposals Nokia and Motorola object to -- despite their objections.

European consumer standards association Cenelac is currently working to produce a standard for measuring specific absorption rates (SAR) -- a measure indicating the maximum radiation a kilogram of human tissue absorbs. The CTIA has "urged" that all mobile phone producers disclose the SAR value of their handsets by April 2001, once an international test standard is in place. Nokia and Motorola have not announced a decision to comply.

IDC senior analyst Tim Sheedy says mobile manufacturers could be "forced" to provide such safety information by a regulatory body such as the Consumer Association or Oftel if they refuse to comply. "The purpose of publishing this data is so that consumers can see it and compare it in order to raise their confidence in the safety standards that mobile phones have to meet." Sheedy says consumers need protection and it is the responsibility of mobile manufacturers to provide them with the SAR value of handsets.

Sheedy's argument has met with indignant response from the manufacturers.

"The SAR value will only provide ratification for the CE mark that mobiles already carry," says a spokesman for Motorola. He denies a decision has been made to place safety stickers on mobile phone packaging. "It is too early to say that we have made an announcement about this, as we haven't. We won't issue a statement until there is a common test standard in place."

"I do not believe that putting a label on a phone quoting a number will help consumers," the spokesman insists. "We need to look at what would be meaningful and relevant to the public. Using the SAR value as an item on a blob chart without understanding its scientific context would be adding unnecessary confusion."

David Stoneham, senior manager for communications at Nokia who similarly denies the reported announcement argues "SAR testing was introduced to make sure that mobile phones comply with safety regulations. It is not there for customers to compare handsets".

Despite the arguments Sheedy believes the move could have a profound affect on the way people choose their mobile handsets. "This could be a very positive thing for the industry, as it could be something that manufacturers could compete on", helping to produce a healthier buying model.

Tony Westbrook has lots of questions about the dangers of mobile phones -- but not that many answers. And he is everso slightly infuriated about the whole thing. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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