Children should not use mobile phones because of continuing concerns over the possible health risks, a leading expert warned on Tuesday. Sir William Stewart of the UK's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) urged parents not to give the phones to children under the age of eight, and said those between eight and 14 should use them only when absolutely necessary.
"I don't think we can put our hands on our hearts and say mobile phones are totally safe," Stewart said.
Scientists have yet to find proof that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones and their transmitter masts could be dangerous, but Stewart said new evidence suggested there might be possible health implications.
He said there was enough uncertainty about mobile phones to adopt a "precautionary approach" -- particularly when it comes to children.
If electromagnetic radiation poses a risk it will affect children more than adults because their skulls are thinner and their brains are still developing.
"If you have a teenager and you feel they can benefit in terms of security by having a mobile phone, it is a personal choice, it is a personal decision, although mobile phones have not always helped on that basis," Stewart said. "But if mobile phones are available to three- to eight-year-olds I can't believe for a moment that can be justified.
"What about kids from eight to 14 years? I believe that is a judgment that parents have to make but they have to have the evidence available to them. My belief is that they should take a precautionary approach and that they should use them for as short a time as possible and they should use text messaging as much as possible."
A quarter of seven- to 10-year-olds now own a mobile phone, according to latest figures, double the levels in 2001.
Following Stewart's report, a company that launched the UK's first mobile phone specifically designed for children announced it was suspending sales.
Communic8 launched the MyMo five months ago, saying it was designed to help four- to eight-year-olds contact their parents in an emergency.
The company's marketing director, Adam Stephenson, said: "We launched the product specifically because we thought it could address security concerns of parents. We absolutely do not want to damage children's health. We have decided to suspend sales of the MyMo pending a chance to look at the Stewart report in detail."
Stewart, a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, first warned of the possible risks to children using mobile phones in a report in 2000, which found no substantiated evidence that emissions from handsets were harmful.
Yesterday's report came to a similar conclusion: "There is no hard evidence at present that the health to the public, in general, is being affected adversely by the use of mobile phone technologies."
now "more concerned" about health risks than five years ago.
Last year, a study of 750 people by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden reported that using a mobile phone for 10 years or more could quadruple the risk of acoustic neuroma, a rare tumor on the nerve between the ear and the brain. Separate research in Germany linked emissions from mobile phone base stations to DNA damage, and possibly cancer.
A Dutch study in 2003 suggested that the new more powerful 3G phones can affect brain function, though Stewart cautioned that the work has some limitations and needs to be repeated.