The government must carry out more research on the link between mobile phones and cancer so that people can make informed choices, according to a cancer specialist and the man who introduced the first smartphone to Hong Kong.
Their calls come a day after a World Health Organisation report was released saying mobile phones were 'possibly carcinogenic to humans', causing an increased risk of brain cancer. The report carries major implications for Hong Kong, where the mobile phone penetration rate is one of the highest in the world at 193.2 per cent - and many people own more than one phone.
Official figures from the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) show there are more than 13.7 million mobile phone subscribers, with about half signed up to internet services through smartphones.
The report from the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was based on an analysis of scientific articles on mobile phone use and cancer. One of the studies showed that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones, caused a 40 per cent higher risk of glioma, a type of brain cancer, in heavy users (30 minutes a day for 10 years).
While the group said the available data was 'limited' and 'inadequate', there was enough evidence to show 'some risk' between mobile phones and cancer.
IARC director Christopher Wild advised people to use hands-free devices or to text. 'One of the interesting outcomes ... is that [the report] identifies gaps in the knowledge on a certain research area,' he said.
The Health Department and Ofta were unable to say if they had conducted studies on, or planned to research, this area. An Ofta spokeswoman said it took steps to 'ensure that the telecommunications devices we use, including mobile phones, are 'safe' and their use does not have an adverse effect on human bodies'.
A Health Department spokesman said 'further investigation of long-term mobile phone use and brain cancer risk is merited' and that it 'will continue to monitor new findings and developments'.
But Francis Fong Po-kiu, president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said this was not good enough. 'If they have enough resources, yes they should do more research. There are two authorities that can do this - Ofta and the Consumer Council.
'If they want to do this, they should include a health body because it's not easy and it takes a long time - maybe five to 10 years,' said Fong, who introduced the XDA smartphone to the city in 2002.
Dr Samuel Chiu Kwok-wing, a cancer specialist at Hong Kong Baptist Hospital, said brain cancers occurring on the side that people used their mobile phones was a 'real fact that we need to believe'. 'But there is no definite causal relationship,' he said, between the types of waves from mobile phones causing damage to human DNA which causes cancer.
'We definitely need more data and research to make such conclusions' and researchers should look at changing habits and the ages of mobile users as well as new types of handsets, he said.
The mobile phone penetration rate in Hong Kong
- Many people own more than one phone