Last week's alarming news about cell phone use and brain cancer probably got more attention than it deserved. Definitive links between those two things do not exist at present. Meanwhile, there are other cell-phone related health concerns that deserve a lot more attention.
One of the biggest of these is the tendency to text-message people when it would be wiser to pay attention to where you are going. The Wall Street Journal last week carried a light-hearted report about people nationwide who walk into street lights, trip over construction barriers and even knock over brides at weddings because they walk straight ahead while texting.
One woman reported she regularly sticks her hand out while walking and texting, just so she can avoid detecting obstacles with her head. Hospitals are reporting more injuries caused by falls while texting.
When people aren't hurt, falls might be considered a form of slapstick humor. But there is nothing funny about injuries people cause themselves and others, and there are growing reports of auto accidents, for example, caused by people who text and drive. If talking on a cell phone while driving is a hazard some studies have equated with drunken driving, texting and driving might be the equivalent of driving while drunk and blindfolded.
The Christian Science Monitor recently reported on a survey by Nationwide Insurance that found 18 percent of drivers text and drive at the same time. Meanwhile, states have begun considering laws to make this a crime. Utah should follow this trend.
Meanwhile, the link between cancer and cell phone use needs a lot more study. It got a lot of attention because it came from Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, who directs the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. But it was confusingly incomplete.
Herberman recommends keeping cell phones away from the head, using the phone's hands-free speaker, instead. But then he warns against using phones in a crowd because of the possible dangers to those in the vicinity, which would seem to negate the benefits of the speaker.
The concern has to do with radio-frequency energy, which emits electromagnetic radiation. So far, however, myriad studies have found no link between this and cancer. One study included 420,000 Danish cell users, including some who had used such phones for a decade. No cancer connection was found.
That may change, of course, as science marches on. Until then, it makes more sense to focus on the real and immediate risks associated with cell phone distractions.