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Is your cell phone trying to kill you?

Mike Elgan | Aug. 4, 2008
Banning or avoiding cell phones wouldn't make a noticeable dent in rates of accidents, diseases or behavioral problems in children.

FRAMINGHAM, 1 AUGUST 2008 - Don't look now, but your cell phone is out to get you. This deadly device can cause accidents, give you cancer or even kill you, according to a rising chorus of alarmist reports.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) said this week that E.R. doctors are reporting an increase in both injuries and deaths caused by text messaging. People are apparently wandering into traffic and losing control of their cars because they're sending text messages instead of paying attention. The ACEP singled out text messaging while rollerblading as a risk.

Survey-based research reported this week by the Danish National Birth Cohort found that "Children with exposure to cell phones (prenatally, postnatally, or both), tended to have higher percentages of borderline or abnormal scores for emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity, and peer problems."

Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, sent a memo to about 3,000 faculty and staff last week advising that they keep children away from cell phones, except for emergency calls -- for example, if mommy rollerblades into a pole while text messaging.

States are increasingly banning cell phones for drivers. The laws are based on the belief that using a cell phone while driving a car increases the risk of accidents.

Officials in Russia say that cell phones are to blame for a rise in death by lightning -- more than a dozen people were killed there in the past few weeks by lightning. The theory goes that if you're using a mobile phone during a storm, the chances of you being struck and/or killed by lightning is greater than if you're, say, just sitting under a tree.

So let me get this straight: Cell phones cause cancer, injuries and death.

This is horrible news because in the past 18 years, cell phone use in the United States has risen from under 5 million to over 260 million.

The use of these dangerous devices has gone from zero to almost everybody. Surely cancer, injuries and deaths must have risen just as dramatically -- only, it turns out they really haven't.

Inside the E.R.

You'll notice that the warning from emergency room doctors about the dangers of text messaging is "anecdotal," and includes no numbers, percentages or rates. That's because the numbers are so small, they're probably statistically irrelevant. ERs keep detailed records about why people are injured. Why did they choose to not quantify this "trend"?

A whopping 31 million emergency rooms visits each year result from "accidental injuries." These injuries are caused by (in order of frequency) car accidents, falls (mostly elderly people and young children), drowning, fires, bicycle accidents, playground accidents, poisoning and work-related injuries. The number of visits related to text messaging is probably dwarfed by all these other causes.

 

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