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Mobile industry: The dark side
Pakistan Created: 11 Sep 2011
The billion dollar tobacco industry comprises of persons and companies engaged in the growth, sales, shipment, advertisement, and distribution of tobacco and tobacco-related products. Being well aware of the dangers of this product for decades, it continued to put their own profits before people’s health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco kills more than two and a half million people prematurely every year.

Smoking causes about 30% of all cancers, including cancer of the lungs, mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, bladder, pancreas, heart disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. But what were these “merchants of death” doing? Pumping in more money towards blocking any such medical research and paying individuals to write against the findings. Fortunately for the public, the truth could not be suppressed. In recent years, the Mobile industry has emerged as the leading billion dollar industry with over 5.3 billion mobile users worldwide, 8.2 billion mobile applications, 6.1 trillion sms messages sent per year, 200 million active users and the mobile advertising market stands at $2.7 billion which is predicated to reach $6.6 billion in coming years. Ironically, mobile industry is doing the same what the tobacco industry did i.e. investing millions of dollars to influence health related issues arising out of mobile devices usage and the cellular infrastructure deployments.

Mobile phones use electromagnetic radiations in the microwave range. The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use. From May 24–31 2011 a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries have been meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group indicated that the evidence is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. Classification of 2B means is that there could be some risk of carcinogenicity hence additional research into the long-term heavy use of mobile phones needs to be conducted.

Another area of concern is the radiation emitted by the fixed infrastructure used in mobile telephony, such as base stations and their antennas which provide the link to and from mobile phones. In contrast to mobile handsets, the radiations are emitted continuously and are more powerful at close quarters. Several surveys have found a variety of self-reported symptoms for people who live close to base stations including headaches, sleep disorders, poor memory, mental excitation, confusion, anxiety, depression, appetite disturbance and listlessness. According to another study those living within 400 meters of the tower had a newly-diagnosed cancer rate three times higher than those who living further away. Breast cancer topped the list, but the chances of cancers of the prostate, pancreas, bowel, skin melanoma, lung and blood cancer all increased.

What we are witnessing in our country is a mushrooming growth of mobile sets with new packages launched every other day with the sole intention of making people talk for long hours. To add to it, the installation of mobile antenna towers are cell planning centric without ever giving any consideration to the health risks involved in these ferocious endeavors for business promotion. Blocking Technological development is not the solution however what is needed is to work towards the deployment of devices with controlled radiations thus saving millions of lives from any eventual health hazards. Till that time, what the users can do is to get used to using wired headsets, use texting and avoid radiation hotspots. For the mobile operators, there is a social responsibility to encourage research in this area instead of blocking any such efforts for in the end truth will prevail as was the case with the tobacco industry.

—The writer is a social activist.
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Source: Pakistan Observer, Dr Irfan Zafar, 11 Sep 2011

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