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Cell Phone Use By Kids Panned

Parents should not give mobile phones to children age eight or younger as a precaution against the potential harm of radiation from the devices, the chairman of Britain's National Radiological Protection Board said Tuesday.

Some experts deemed the warning unfounded and unwarranted.

Sir William Stewart, chairman of the NRPB, said there's no conclusive evidence showing a clear danger, but said a growing amount of research shows that mobile phone use may have health implications, making it wise to adopt a "precautionary approach," particularly with children.

"I don't think we can put our hands on our hearts and say mobile phones are safe," Stewart told a news conference. "When you come to giving mobile phones to a 3- to 8-year-old, that can't possibly be right."

The new report doesn't say conclusively that young brains are being harmed, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabreth Palmer in London. But it does say parents should be cautious, because no one knows what long-term cell phone use does to children, whose skulls are thinner, and whose brains are still developing.

As Stewart points out, "Some of the recent information that's coming through does suggest that there may be effects such as tumor formation, and DNA breakage, and these are serious facts if they are proven to be correct."

The problem, observes Palmer, is that cell phones are too recent an invention, so solid data on long-term use simply doesn't exist yet.

In the meantime, the report not only recommends that children under eight don't use cell phones at all, but that nine- to fourteen-year-olds only make short essential calls and use text messaging when possible, along with finding a cell phone model with low emission levels.

"Of course," Palmer says, "to reach any firm conclusions, scientists need a lot more evidence. But, at the rate parents are buying cell phones, and children are using them, it's only a matter of time" until that evidence becomes available.

"I can't get too worked up about it right now," The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay told co-anchor Hannah Storm. "Because the evidence just isn't there. There's no evidence in adults that cell phones are harmful, and there's only a theoretical risk to children.

"It's certainly worth investigating this with long-term study, but most of this theory comes from laboratory studies. ...The evidence is shaky at best.

"That's certainly to not say they shouldn't do long-term studies. They certainly should, and that's the essence of what the British report says: It's calling for more research. This was an accumulation of information from a variety of European countries, pulling it all together, and it was an update of something they'd done in 2000."

Still, adds Senay, "I agree with what they say. I think the most important thing is to encourage short-term use, anyway. Kids have other things to be doing besides talking on the cell phone. Use it for emergencies primarily, and not for long-term conversations.

"The second (suggestion) is to encourage text messaging (rather than cell phone calls). That's very important.

"The final thing is, if you're really worried about this, you can buy the hands-free devices. The Food and Drug Administration says that takes the radio frequency away from the head, if you're concerned. But if you snap it onto your belt, it can affect other parts of the body. Hold it away from the head if you're particularly concerned."

Senay says she agrees with Storm's conclusion that, "There are lots of reasons to limit cell phone use for your child, but don't panic over this study."