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The BBC's Rebecca Marston
"Mobile phones were still one of the most popular presents this Christmas"
 real 56k

Thursday, 28 December, 2000, 16:11 GMT
Huge lawsuits over mobile phones
Woman using a mobile phone
Hold that call - it might be dangerous, say some lawyers
Some of the world's largest mobile phone companies and phone manufacturers are reportedly facing billion dollar lawsuits brought by brain tumour victims in the US.

The mobile phone industry is not the tobacco industry, we are not covering anything up

Mike Caldwell, Vodafone
But one of the likely defendants in the case, UK mobile phone giant Vodafone, has dismissed suggestions of a massive payout.

The claims for compensation centre on suggestions that the use of mobile phones could trigger brain cancers, and that the phone companies knew about the risk.

The medical evidence on the issue is still ambiguous, with some studies indicating a connection and others ruling it out.

According to the UK's Times newspaper, the lawsuits are about to be launched by one of the most successful litigation specialists in the US.

Cigarette production
Law suits against tobacco firms brought big payouts for cancer victims - and their lawyers
The law firm, run by Peter Angelos and based in Baltimore, Maryland, was involved in successful litigation against the tobacco industry.

Recently, the company earned nearly $1bn after helping secure $4.2bn in damages for smokers who suffer from cancer.

Mr Angelos made his name by winning large payouts after suing companies using and producing asbestos.

The firm employs 100 attorneys in 13 branch offices.

Vodafone a potential target

According to the Times, one of the mobile phone firms that could soon find itself in the firing line is Verizon, a 45% subsidiary of UK mobile phone company Vodafone.

A Vodafone spokesman in the UK said the company was not involved in a lawsuit, while its Verizon subsidiary was involved in just one lawsuit brought by a different law firm against the phone manufacturer Motorola.

The spokesman told the BBC that "the mobile phone industry is not the tobacco industry, we are not covering anything up".

He said mobile phones had been given a clean bill of health, but added that it was impossible to "rule out a health risk".

The US law firm wants to take two claims to court by March, and add a further seven or eight by the end of the year, according to the report.

The lawsuits are set to be filed in California, Kentucky and Maryland and will reportedly be filed against a mobile handset manufacturer, a mobile phone network provider and a local land-line company.

The suits would hinge on the notion that mobile phone network operators and the manufacturers of the handsets knew of a health risk posed by the equipment they sold to customers.

UK issues health advice

In the UK, the government recently issued advice to mobile phone users to keep calls short, and to discourage children from using mobiles except for emergency calls.

The government is also funding a 7m research programme into the health effects of using mobile phones.

The uncertainty over the health risks of mobile phones is illustrated by conflicting advice over the use of so-called "hands-free" sets.

These sets - a small ear-piece and microphone on an extension lead - allow callers to keep the mobile phone away from their heads.

Only recently hailed as the best way to keep radiation away from the brain, some scientists now warn it could actually channel the radiation to reach the brain directly.

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See also:

08 Dec 00 | Health
7m for mobile health research
10 May 00 | Health
Child mobile phone warning
28 Apr 00 | Health
Mobile phone fears 'unfounded'
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