By Nic Fleming,
A teddy bear-shaped mobile phone aimed at children as young as four was launched yesterday.
Article supplied by Sylvie
The new Teddyfone ‘is a response to clear demand in the market’
The manufacturers of the Teddyfone claimed it would help parents keep track of their children while minimising potential health hazards posed by radio frequency emissions.
With no screen and only four buttons that can be pre-programmed by parents, the device prevents users from being targeted by text message bullying, calls from strangers or inappropriate adult material.
The makers of the Teddyfone claim that the rate at which the body absorbs energy from the handset, known as its peak specific absorption rate, is 0.16w/kg - close to the lowest available. Most mobiles have SAR values of 0.4 to 0.7w/kg.
Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency, advised parents earlier this year to discourage use of mobile phones by children under eight as a precaution against potential health risks.
Yesterday the agency was joined in its criticism of the Teddyfone by even the industry body that represents mobile phone operators.
A spokesman for the Mobile Operators Association said: “The companies we represent don’t market their products to under-16s, as recommended by Sir William Stewart. We believe that is a responsible policy and is in line with the advice on health.”
Paul Liesching, the managing director of Teddyfone Ltd, who said the device was aimed at four- to 10-year-olds, pointed to research showing that a quarter of seven- to 10-year-olds owned mobiles. He said parents should be able to buy low-emission handsets that also protected children from other potential dangers.
“This is a basic parental decision. If you see the utility and benefits of your child having a mobile phone are greater than any potential risks, give your child a mobile phone. If you don’t, then don’t.
“One million children under 10 already have mobile phones which potentially put them at risk from text-bullying, excessive charges and inappropriate material. Teddy-fone is a response to clear demand in the market.”
The new handset has an SOS button that allows children who feel under threat to connect automatically to a parent’s mobile.
A child monitor option allows concerned parents to listen in to what is happening around their child and an optional child locator service sends parents a map of where their son or daughter is, on request, for 50p.
The handsets and two years’ line rental are free. Calls are charged at standard rates.
Sir William, the Government’s leading adviser on radiation, said in January that children under nine should not use mobiles and that those aged nine to 14 should make only short, essential calls.
He said: “When it comes to suggesting that mobile phones should be available to three- to eight-year-olds, I can’t believe for a moment that can be justified.
“My advice is that they should not have them because children’s skulls are not fully thickened, their nervous systems are not fully developed and the radiation penetrates further into their brains.”
Published research suggests that a child’s brain absorbs 50-70 per cent more of the emissions from a mobile phone than an adult’s.
Alasdair Philips, of consumer group Powerwatch, said yesterday: “Marketing a product at children when there is increasing evidence that it may be causing them both short-term and long-term harm is at the very least highly irresponsible.” Dr Michael Clarke, of the Health Protection Agency, said: “It’s up to any company to justify its product in light of our advice that children should be discouraged from excessive use of mobiles.”
Communi8, a British company, lost about £500,000 after launching Mymo, a mobile for under-eights, last year. It withdrew the product following Sir William’s comments.
A survey of 1,232 parents of children under 16 carried out on behalf of Teddyfone found that 35 per cent of respondents were concerned about the potential health hazards for children under 10 with mobiles. Nearly a quarter were worried about their child’s phone being stolen.
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12 September 2005: Mobile phone fears for owners, aged five
14 August 2005: Mobiles aimed at under-8s set for return to high street
12 January 2005: Don’t allow under-9s to use a mobile
NRPB non-response re concerns over mobile phones for under-5s
You may be interested in the email below that I sent to Dr Mike Clark of the HPA-RPD (formerly the NRPB) two weeks ago. As you'll see, this is in response to his reply to an email from a member of the public in which they expressed concern about the marketing of mobile phones to children as young as 4 years old.
You may also be interested - as I am - that Dr Clark hasn't replied to my email in those two weeks - in marked contrast to his practice of responding to other queries I've seen within 2-3 days (I haven't emailed him myself before). It's very surprising that such an emotive and contentious issue hasn't produced a reply from the spokesman for the body that supposedly PROTECTS our nation's (and our children's) HEALTH.
You'll see I've raised a number of pertinent issues closely related to this matter. I believe ALL of these issues demand a response from the Radiation PROTECTION Division of the HEALTH PROTECTION Agency. If you feel, as I do, that a deafening silence on these issues is not good enough, then you might like to email Dr Clark as well - you'll find his email address below.
You may also consider various of the apparent contradictions that I've highlighted in my email below useful in objecting to 'inappropriate developments' of various types.
I shall be posting this text, and the email below, on my website http://www.starweave.com
. As I know that the HPA-RPD (AKA NRPB) is in the Top 10 visitors to that site, this may encourage the response that has so far been lacking. I'm not including Dr Clark's email, as I feel that would be discourteous without his agreement. I will, though, say that he seems to take the view that his labelling of this issue as "political" puts it outside his remit - somewhat bizarre, for the body whose advice informs government policy on this subject.
Happy Christmas to all.
----- Original Message -----
From: Dr Grahame Blackwell
Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 12:41 PM
Dear Dr Clark
I have recently been forwarded a copy of your reply (below) to S**** W**** on the subject of the 'Teddyfone'.
I would agree wholeheartedly with your view that the matter is political in nature. The sole reason that a company is able to market such a product to young children in this country is because a political decision has been made that permits this. That political decision has been made on the basis of advice from the body that you represent. If the advice from your organisation had been materially different then that political decision would most probably also have been materially different. However much you may wish to dissociate yourself from this commercial activity, it's only happening because your organisation has, in effect, given the go-ahead to such activities.
In your email you state "I suspect the company will argue that the product is an aid to child security." In fact, of course, the company doesn't have to argue any such thing. The company doesn't have to argue anything at all. It simply has to conform with ICNIRP guidelines - the 'Precautionary Approach' advocated in various documents published by your organisation. Perhaps you could explain to me exactly HOW this constitutes a 'Precautionary Approach' when the very reason for advocating such an approach, as documented in the Stewart Report and your follow-up Report 'Mobile Phones and Health 2004' (Documents of the NRPB) was that (I quote):
“There is now scientific evidence, however, which suggests that there may be biological effects occurring at exposures below these [i,e, ICNIRP] guidelines.
"We conclude therefore that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach. "
In other words, the reason that this product can be legally marketed to children of infant-school age is precisely because your organisation has seen fit to advocate, as a 'Precautionary Approach', those very guidelines whose perceived inadequacy has made such an Approach necessary. I know I'm not the only person who would be most interested to know the scientific rationale behind such an apparent 'do-nothing' policy.
It's also interesting to note that the Teddyfone itself is provided free and there is no line rental charge for 2 years. The manufacturers will be making their money solely from charges for calls made. I'd be interested to hear any business-minded supplier try to justify such a pricing policy on the basis that this is primarily an 'emergency-use--only' product, indeed I'm most surprised that you can even offer that as a plausible argument. The fact is, of course, that the commercial viability of this product depends solely on high call volume - from children of infant school age - and the manufacturers are well aware of that. Let's not kid ourselves - or try to kid anyone else.
Still on the safety angle, It's not clear to me what sort of situation an under-5 might find themselves in that necessitates such a facility. It's not the norm for children of that age to be set loose roaming the streets unsupervised. Is the Teddyfone in fact intended to reduce parental/carer responsibility for supervising infants, on the basis that "It's ok, they'll call us on the Teddyfone if there's a problem"? If so I'd suggest that this is a move towards less, not greater, safety and security for children.
I'm advised that, on a Canadian TV programme last Sunday (20th Nov) Sir William Stewart referred to the marketing of cellphones to under-8s as "grotesque" - a fairly explicit condemnation. Clearly he was on that programme purely by virtue of his position as Head of the HPA-RPD. I'd ask whether you, as spokesman for that same body, disagree with the views of your superior in this matter. If so, what are the public to think if the government's advisory body is divided within itself over the risk to young lives? If not, why is the HPA-RPD not sending out a very clear message to government on the inadvisability of permitting such profiteering at a potentially massive health cost to our children?
I was interested to note, too, your comment in the Daily Telegraph yesterday that "It's up to any company to justify its product" - and Sir William's observation in the same article "I can't believe for a moment that can be justified" (both relating to availability of mobile phones to small children). I've heard you say that yours is an advisory, not a regulatory body and so is not able to determine policy. I'd suggest that a watchdog with no teeth is of very limited value. If in addition it's hesitant about barking too loud, apparently for fear of upsetting those it's supposed to be warning about, then it's worse than useless - it gives the illusion of protection whilst in fact offering none. Even worse than that, by giving 'advice' that encourages government to implement a policy of virtually unrestrained commercial exploitation, that 'watchdog' is effectively holding open the door for all and sundry whilst tying the hands of any poor citizen who wants to protect his or her family (even the Mobile Operators' Association has expressed reservations about the Teddyfone - but it's still legal, thanks largely to your advice to government).
Dr Clark, you cannot have it both ways. You can't appear week after week in the media as the voice of official scientific opinion in the UK - and at the same time claim to have no part in the political process that permits an outrage like the Teddyfone (I use the term 'outrage' advisedly, it seems in keeping with the comments from Sir William Stewart and the Mobile Operators' Association). Whether or not it’s your intention there is no doubt that your position as evidenced in the Telegraph article is the very reason why “It’s up to [the] company” – central government hasn’t been given any good reason by its advisers to decree otherwise. Those little tots clutching Teddyfones this Christmas will be relying for their safety, not on the social conscience of a commercial operator, but on the ‘Protection’ that is central to your professional role. That 'Protection' is quite literally central - not just once, but twice - in the title of your organisation.
I’d be glad if you’d couch any response to this letter in terms that you’d be agreeable to being disseminated more widely; I know that there are very many people who would be interested in that response. If you make it clear in your reply that you would not wish such action, then of course I would honour that. You may also wish to know that the contents of this email are not at this time being displayed or circulated elsewhere.
Yours very sincerely
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