The Ministry of Health on Sunday published for the first time public guidelines for safe use of cellular and cordless phones. They call for limiting children's use of cell phones, avoidance of cellular communication in enclosed places such as elevators and trains, and use of wired, not wireless, earpieces.
The guidelines were drafted by Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, head of the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. The decision to formulate and publicize them followed mounting requests to the ministry from the public, as well as increasing information on the subject as a result of recent research, she said.
"Even though we have not yet reached the height of information on the issue, there are already answers to some of the questions that have arisen regarding the use of mobile phones," Sadetzki told Haaretz yesterday.
"The public is very interested in the issue of radiation emanating from cell phones, but continues to use them as usual," she added. "The purpose of the guidelines we formulated is to get the public to use these phones wisely."
According to Sadetzki, taking precautionary measures can reduce the health risks posed by radiation, "but they won't eliminate them entirely."
The measures proposed by the Health Ministry are based on a series of studies conducted throughout the world in recent years, which point to a connection between cell-phone use and exposure to cancer-causing radiation. One of the studies was conducted by Dr. Sadetzki herself, in collaboration with experts in 16 other countries. The study found a clear link between cell-phone use and a rise in the risk of developing cancer of the salivary glands. In particular, it found a heightened risk for cancer among subjects who made long calls, especially in areas with few cellular antennae, since the latter have to emit proportionally more radiation to ensure effective communication.
Health Ministry officials said Sunday that it is still not clear whether cell-phone use is connected to an increased risk of developing cancerous growths, but in light of the research, it is prudent to adopt a policy of "preventive caution."
The officials were particularly concerned about children's use of cell phones, due to their heightened risk for developing tumors as a result of exposure to radiation, and because children can expect many more years of cell-phone use in comparison to adults.
The ministry also suggests that parents consider postponing and restricting children's use of the phones, and making sure youngsters use a wired, not wireless, headset or earpiece.
In its announcement Sunday, the ministry added that, taking into consideration current Israeli standards, the amount of exposure to radiation resulting from cellular antennae is very low.
The cellular providers, meanwhile, maintain the position that there is no scientific basis that obliges them to publish warnings regarding the public health risks of cell-phone use, even with regard to children. That message was reinforced during visits to Israel last month by senior figures as part of ongoing activities by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, an industry group with a local branch.
When asked about the need to issue warnings regarding children and cell-phone use, industry representatives claimed that, according to scientific studies compiled over more than a decade, there is a consensus that no proof exists of a health risk resulting from the use of phones that meet international standards - at any age.
Cellular providers and the medical community alike are eagerly awaiting the publication of the latest Interphone study, encompassing several countries including Israel, on the link between cell-phone use and increasing morbidity. The results have not yet been published, apparently due to disagreements among the scientists over their interpretation and presentation.