Whither Those Cell Phone Headsets?

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Cancer not calling: Cell phones have received a provisional clean bill of health

No one has ever accused Americans of ignoring a good health scare. Recent reports connecting cell phone use with brain cancer have led many of us to walk around looking like absolute lunatics, babbling into tiny microphones or gingerly holding their ostensibly radiation-emitting phones as far away from their bodies as possible.

Now it turns out all that paranoia may have been for naught: According to two studies released this week, there does not appear to be any direct causative link between cell phone use and the development of brain tumors — no matter how extensive the phone use may be. "We found that regardless of how frequently the phones were used per month or how many years the phones were used, there wasn't any relationship with the development of brain cancer," Joshua Muscat, chief author of the study, said Wednesday. The first report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was funded by the cellular phone industry and conducted by the American Health Foundation. The second, independently financed study will be published later this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, where editors decided to lift an embargo early in order to support the findings reported in JAMA.

Concerns aren't quite over

The studies, while extensive, do carry certain caveats. The findings can be applied only to phones operating with analog systems — an ever-dwindling inventory in this age of digital communications. And because most interviewees have had their phones only for an average of three years, the studies' authors caution against sweeping statements of safety, urging further-reaching surveys to determine the effects long-term cell phone use.

That's great news for the world's earpiece manufacturers — but not so great for the rest of us, who are apparently doomed to share the streets with a growing number people ranting into invisible cell phones about their stock portfolios and children's play dates. With any luck the growing movement to ban cell phone use in cars will be extended to such street behavior.