SACRAMENTO, California, January 9, 2018 (ENS) – There are now more cell phones in the United States than there are people. As smartphone use continues to increase, especially among children, the California Department of Public Health has issued its first guidance for individuals and families who want to decrease their exposure to the radio frequency energy that cell phones emit.

Cell phones emit radio frequency energy when they send and receive signals to and from cell towers, and some scientists and public health officials believe this energy may impact human health.


Women share information on their phones, Dec. 27, 2017 (Photo by Kevin Johnston)

Although the scientific community has not reached a consensus on the risks of cell phone use, research suggests long-term, high use may impact human health.

“Although the science is still evolving, there are concerns among some public health professionals and members of the public regarding long-term, high use exposure to the energy emitted by cell phones,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith.

Some laboratory experiments and human health studies have suggested the possibility that long-term, high use of cell phones may be linked to certain types of cancer and other health effects, including:

• brain cancer and tumors of the acoustic nerve, needed for hearing and maintaining balance, and salivary glands
• lower sperm counts and inactive or less mobile sperm
• headaches and effects on learning and memory, hearing, behavior and sleep

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use.

These studies do not establish the link definitely, however, and scientists disagree about whether cell phones cause these health problems and how great the risks might be.

“We know that simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults,” said Dr. Smith.


Schoolgirl on her cell phone in Chicago, Illinois (Photo by Enicok)

Cell phone use in the United States has increased sharply in recent years. About 95 percent of Americans now own a cell phone, and 12 percent rely on their phones for everyday Internet access.

In addition, the average age when children get their first phone is now just 10 years old, and a majority of young people keep their phones on or near them most of the day and also while they sleep.

“Children’s brains develop through the teenage years and may be more affected by cell phone use,” said Dr. Smith. “Parents should consider reducing the time their children use cell phones and encourage them to turn the devices off at night.”

The new California Department of Public Health guidance includes practical steps both adults and children could take to reduce exposure to radio frequency energy from cell phones.

The guidance warns:

• Keep your phone away from your body. Keeping your phone just a few feet away from you can make a big difference.

• When you talk on your cell phone, avoid holding it to your head. Use the speakerphone or a headset instead. Wireless (Bluetooth) and wired headsets emit much less RF energy than cell phones.

• Send text messages instead of talking on the phone.

• If you are streaming or if you are downloading or sending large files, try to keep the phone away from your head and body.

• Carry your cell phone in a backpack, briefcase, or purse; NOT in a pocket, bra or belt holster. Because your phone’s antenna tries to stay connected with a cell tower whenever it’s on, it emits some RF energy even when you are not using it. It emits no RF energy when it’s in airplane mode, because airplane mode turns off cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.


Workman about to perform maintenance on a cell phone repeater tower in a fake palm tree, Southern California, March 20, 2013 (Photo by Russ Allison Loar)

• Reduce or avoid using your cell phone when it is sending out high levels of RF energy. This happens mainly when you see only one or two bars displayed. Cell phones put out more RF energy to connect with cell towers when the signal is weak. If you must use your phone when the signal is weak, try to follow the other guidance on this page.

Your cell phone sends out high levels of RF energy when you are in a fast-moving car, bus, or train. Your phone puts out more RF energy to maintain connections to avoid dropping calls as it switches connections from one cell tower to the next unless it is in airplane mode.

High levels of RF energy are emitted when you are streaming audio or video, or downloading or sending large files. To watch movies or listen to playlists on your phone, download them first, then switch to airplane mode while you watch or listen, the California Department of Public Health advises.

• Don’t sleep with your phone in your bed or near your head. Unless the phone is off or in airplane mode, keep it at least a few feet away from your bed.

• Remove headsets when not on a call.

• Avoid products that claim to block radio frequency energy. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, products that interfere with the phone’s signal may force it to work harder and emit more RF energy in order to stay connected, possibly increasing your exposure.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports more research into how cell phone exposure affects human health, particularly children’s health, over the long term.

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