Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, October 29, 1999

Cell phone fans
should use headsets

FOR the past three years, Honolulu Realtor Patricia "Patty" Case has relied on her trusty cellular phone to conduct business while driving her car, sitting at open houses and even strolling through the supermarket. But as she talks on the cell phone, she doesn't hold it against her ear or, for that matter, anywhere near her body.

Ever since Patty learned through anecdotal reports of the possible link between the usage of cell phones and the onset of cancer, the president of Case Properties Inc. has worn a $15 headset to utilize the must-have communication gizmo of the '90s, while holding the receiver away from her torso.

The black ear piece with attached microphone and long black cord makes her look like a high-tech storm trooper in public, but Patty doesn't mind. The Manoa resident says it's easier to use, leaves her hand free to drive, write or shop and, besides, the safety is worth it.

"I'm not going to wait 20-30 years down the road to find out that it (using the cell phone) is bad for me, like with all those tobacco studies," says Patty, who ranks among the top five Realtors in the state for sales production volume. "Why take the risk?"

Especially after last week's "20/20" special report on the safety of cell phones. According to the investigative TV program on ABC, while the cell phone industry says it knows of no direct correlation between the use of its product and cancer, it could not absolutely rule out a possible cause-and-effect link.

In fact, preliminary results from a research study paid for by the cellular phone industry suggested evidence of risk that needs further examination, according to a May story in the Washington Post.

Patty didn't see last week's "20/20" program but she's not surprised by the reinvigorated controversy. She began using a headset after noticing an electrical buzzing from her office phones about five seconds before her cell phone began getting an incoming call. Patty also didn't like the warmth emanating from the cell phone receiver while in use.

Because the gadget works from high-powered energy transmissions being beamed to the cell phone via its antenna, Patty worried about potential long-term effects like brain tumors or leukemia. She won't even let her two young sons use it, she says, because the potential risk to kids could be even greater.

But mostly, Patty believes, a headset is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Plus, she tells her friends, she is more productive, doesn't get tired holding the receiver and can drive more safely, even though she looks like she is muttering to herself in the car.

WHAT do I think about all this rigamarole? Well, here's what I did: called my cell phone sales representative and ordered a headset for myself.

I like being available to those who need access to me, even when I'm not at home or in the office. I love the convenience and immediacy of a portable phone. But I don't relish the idea of future studies verifying what people like Patty Case already believe to be true.

Or course, my cellular rep scoffs at such heresy. She says that she and her co-workers have been holding these things against their noggins for almost 10 years, and health problems have never, ever ensued. Lucky for them. But, like Patty says, you never know...

If you see me in public, and I'm chattering away to nobody in particular, I am not in my own little world talking to myself. Check out the new headset.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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