Page last updated at 01:13 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 02:13 UK

Bulb bows out to mixed applause

By Anna Browning
BBC News

Light bulb
People have been stockpiling supplies of 100 watt bulbs

It is light, bright and has been around for 120 years. But from Tuesday the 100 watt bulb bows out from Britain.

Under new EU rules the manufacture and import of 100 watt bulbs and all frosted bulbs will be banned in favour of the energy-saving variety.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, compact fluorescent lamps (energy-saving bulbs) use 80% less electricity than standard bulbs.

They could also save the average household £590 in energy over their lifetime of between eight and 10 years, and if all traditional bulbs were replaced, the carbon saving would be the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.

Good reasons. But while cutting carbon and cheaper bills might entice many, others are less happy.

Commonplace complaints about the new bulbs include they take too long to warm up, they are ugly, they give off poor light and they contain mercury - making them potentially hazardous and hard to get rid of.

Any bulb with frosted, opal, pearl or other translucent finish - unless category A energy savers - will be banned from 1 September 2009
All clear bulbs must be energy rating category E or better from 1 September 2009
100W bulbs and above must be at least category C from 1 September 2009
75W bulbs and above must be category C or better from 1 September 2010
60W bulbs and above must be at least category C from 1 September 2011
All clear bulbs must be at least category C from 1 September 2012

And according to campaigners, energy-saving bulbs can trigger migraines, exacerbate skin conditions and lead to other serious health problems.

When many retailers, including most supermarkets, announced they were signing up to a voluntary scheme to phase out traditional incandescent bulbs in January - ahead of the September deadline - there was wide-scale panic buying.

Supermarkets reported a massive run on the traditional type, while the Daily Mail gave away 25,000 incandescent light bulbs in "outrage at further European intervention in British affairs".

One opponent, Glynn Hughes, from Preston, decided he couldn't face life without 100 watts.

"I've bought a 15-year supply of the old-fashioned, incandescent light bulbs," he told the BBC.

"I reckon in 15 years people will have worked out that these things aren't good for you and we'll be able to buy as many as we want of the old ones."

It is, he believes, a question of human rights.

"It's totally unfair. As human beings we are entitled to choose whether we believe the, some might say rumours, of the danger of low-energy light bulbs or whether we ignore it.

"At the moment we've got the choice. As of 1 September, we've no choice."

Health concerns

For some, the ruling could have serious side effects.

David Price, of Spectrum, an alliance of charities working with people with light-sensitive health conditions, says the government is "disregarding" public concerns.

"Health is important and it should come over anything else, but they're not looking after ours," he said.

The new low-energy bulbs, particularly the ones in coils or rings, trigger people's migraines
Lee Tomkins
Migraine Action

Lee Tomkins, director of Migraine Action, is urging sufferers to stockpile the old-fashioned bulbs before retailers run out, while the the Royal National Institute of Blind People suggests using tungsten halogen bulbs instead of energy-saving bulbs in hallways and stairs.

However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs denies they are a risk, saying the new bulbs are now "flicker free".

"CFL bulbs used to operate at mains frequency (50Hz). They are now designed to operate at 1,000 times that frequency," a spokesman said.

Claims of poor lighting were also untrue, he said.

"The light is bright and clear and tests conducted by the Energy Saving Trust suggest that the majority of people cannot tell the difference between the light of a new CFL and an incandescent bulb."

He also said EU health experts had concluded that there was not enough evidence to suggest the modern lamps could aggravate epilepsy or migraines.

Even so, says Lee Tomkins: "Be sensible and use the old incandescent bulbs where you can.

"The new low-energy bulbs, particularly the ones in coils or rings, trigger people's migraines."

She added that the charity was in talks with light bulb manufacturers who had been "fantastic" and trials were planned later this year to try to see "if any of the new light bulbs could be adapted to be suitable".

Meanwhile, shopkeepers are reporting many are indeed stockpiling 100 watt bulbs, although a quick search of the internet shows there are still plenty for sale.

Lesley Urrutia, of Pilton Electrical in Cardiff, said customers - many elderly - appeared to be panic buying.

"Normally I might sell 10 - but I'm selling more than 80 a day," she said. "It's good for business but there is no need for people to panic."

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