Is Your Cell Phone Giving You Brain Cancer?

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced this past week that cell phone use may cause brain cancer. Although we’ve heard this rumored and bandied about before, the official WHO report has created quite the international stir.

Frankly, I’m not at all surprised by the disclosure. A debate has been simmering for years about whether cell phone makers have misrepresented the risks inherent in the use of their products. And I’ve tried enough radiation-poisoning cases over the years to have built up a healthy suspicion of those hand-held devices that have become as indispensable as any of our other appendages.

If you’re one of those people who always has a cell phone stuck to your ear, I’ve got two words for you: land line.

After analyzing all available scientific data, the “recommendation” from the working group of 31 WHO scientists from 14 countries is that cell phone use be classified as “possibly carcinogenic.” Okay, but did we really need a working group of some of the top scientists in the world to tell us that? It’s a relatively useless categorization, except that it paves the way for further official study to establish a definitive connection.

From a June 2 front-page USA Today article:

“There could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer risk.” working group chair Jonathan Samet, of the University of Southern California, said in a statement. It noted the possible connection between cellphones and two types of brain tumors: gliomas and acoustic neuromas.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer did take the additional step of recommending that the 5 billion cell phone users around the world consider ways to reduce their exposure. In an era in which consumers are devouring thousands and thousands of cell minutes every month, it’s time to dust off those land lines and start using them again. The “reduce your exposure” suggestion from the WHO leads me to believe that the health agency will ultimately reveal that there is indeed a definitive connection – it is now simply a matter of how serious the risk.

A number of prominent mass tort attorneys, myself included, have been looking at this consumer-safety issue for a while. I personally am waiting for the perfect case to file. What makes these cell phone cases different from your garden-variety radiation case is that proof of exposure will be relatively simple because the phone companies are kind enough to document use by the minute.

The timing of the WHO announcement is sure to have an impact on the legal proceedings already underway, at the highest levels. From a June 1 Reuters article:

The WHO report comes as a proposed class-action lawsuit against 19 defendants, mostly cell phone manufacturers and telecommunications companies, has landed at the U.S. Supreme Court. The defendants – which include Nokia, AT&T Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. – are accused of misrepresenting that their cell phones are safe, when they in fact knew of potential dangers.

A lower appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs’ claims were preempted by federal law. But on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court formally asked the U.S. Justice Department to weigh in on whether the high court should hear the plaintiffs’ appeal.

We’ll keep you posted on that decision as the story continues to unfold. The WHO announcement, featured in a front-page USA Today story, was heard around the world, and the collective heart of cell phone makers skipped a beat. Though I don’t think we’ll see a cratering of cell phone sales – at least not for the time being – there is definitely an economic issue inherent in all this. According to Gartner, a Connecticut-based information technology research and advisory firm, 428 million mobile communication devices were sold in the first quarter of 2011. That’s a 19 percent increase over the first quarter of 2010. And according to CTIA, a wireless industry group, there were more than 300 million wireless-subscriber connections in the United States alone at the close of 2010, nearly tripling the 109 million hookups that were active in 2000. Those stats represent some serious revenue that the communication industry would hate to see dry up. My guess is manufacturers will have to make adjustments to keep sales soaring.

USA Today quotes Sally Frautschy, professor of neurology at UCLA Medical Center: “I try to minimize use and keep my calls short. I think there’s been adequate research to show we need to minimize use and make better phones that emit less radiation.”

So if you’re one of those people who is constantly on a cell phone, you may want to dial that back. And if you’re heavily invested in stocks tied to cell phone service providers and manufacturers, you may want to hedge your bet in the not-too-distant future. In both cases, it seems, there are risks to consider.

Read the USA Today story here: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/medical/cancer/story/2011/06/WHO-Cellphones-possibly-carcinogenic/47896306/1

Read the rundown on cell phone safety lawsuits here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/02/us-cellphones-lawsuits-idUSTRE75075L20110602

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