Jewish World Review July 6, 2004 / 17 Tamuz, 5764

Dean P. Johnson

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Consumer Reports

What we need are laws protecting us from all the dangers of cell phone smoking | New Jersey is now the second state in the country to ban talking on a hand held cell phone while driving; however, blaming one specific technology for human behavior is like blaming lung disease on the tobacco industry.

This is not to say that smoking a cell phone while driving isn't a concern. I was riding with an acquaintance, watching him slalom his SUV thought highway traffic with one hand while dialing his cell phone with the thumb of the other. After being subjected to one side of a short cryptic conversation, my friend hit the "End" button. "Wrong number," he said. "There's a peak minute of my life I'll never get back." I smiled, made certain my seatbelt was tight, and hoped that the second-hand smoke of his cellular use wouldn't affect my health.

While I acknowledge the threat of object related incidents, if technology is responsible for our behavior, simply isolating its vehicular use in the name of public safety is a disservice to our general well being because such a law does not go nearly far enough. What we need are laws that will protect us from all the dangers of cell phone smoking.

We could start with a ban on the use of cell phones in public buildings. A person has the right to walk into a post office or courthouse or town hall without being subjected to the odious exhalations of other people's personal business. Being forced to overhear someone else's unfiltered conversations is offensive to anyone's sense of hearing and could be a direct cause to listening related conditions such as acute annoyance and long-term aggravation.

But why stop at public buildings? We must insist upon laws that would keep all cell-phoners from lighting up anywhere in public. There is just no good reason whatsoever to stink up a grocery store aisle with clouds of loud questions breathed into end of a cell as to which brand of tuna fish to buy. A non-cell phone section in restaurants is a nice gesture, but it is no more than a wink from a dentist about to drill. Even though a section may be cell phone free, the unmistakable stench of a digitized "Mexican Hat Dance" still wafts over to the non-cell phoner's table, polluting the dining environment.

There needs to be a law banning cell phone advertising from television. These advertisements make owning a cell appear glamorous, even cool. Beautiful people wearing fashionably scrappy clothes wandering a busy city street with a cell phone sticking out of their ear: Who wouldn't want to be them? What college co-ed wouldn't dream of screaming at an earlier nighttime rate? Who doesn't want to feel so important that they must take that incoming call? What right minded person wouldn't love to receive small, cryptic text messages, or, better yet, type out secret little communiqués on tiny number pads? Who wouldn't want to blow smoke rinks of impulsively taken digital pictures that are constantly sent friends and family? The advertising image presented by the cell phone industry is far too potent for television.

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Image, after all, is important and highly influential especially on a child which is why there needs to be a law forbidding anyone under the age of eighteen to own, use or possess a cell phone or cell phone paraphernalia. Cell phone distributors and convenience store clerks alike must insist on valid identification from anyone who looks like he or she is under twenty-five. How disturbing it is to see groups of kids hanging out in parks and on the street smoking cell phones. And since the ability to make clear decisions is impaired by youth, we must make sure that cell phones stay out of youthful hands before cells become more important than life itself. Just recently in Ventnor, New Jersey, a shore community, a seventeen-year-old high school student drowned trying to retrieve a cell phone he accidentally dropped on the frozen bay. If kids are becoming hooked on cell phoning, can hand-held electronic organizer addiction be far behind?

Beyond laws, though, the cell phone industry must be held accountable for the harmful byproducts of cell phone use. We must insist they step up voluntarily to help protect us from their risky product. How about a cell phone industry sponsored web site with advice to help stop smoking cell phones, or other programs and products to help the cell phoner stop cut down on phoning with gum, perhaps, to fulfill that urge to flap the jaw, or warning labels with clear cautions to the hazards of cell phoning?

New Jersey's limited law sends the erroneous message that the most dangerous element of cell phoning is talking it up while driving. Cell phone smoking has the potential for far more perilous effects. The best advice is not to start, but remember, quitting cell phoning now greatly reduces serious risks to your health and the sanity of those around you.

JWR contributor Dean P. Johnson's columns appear in Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Hartford Courant, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, San Francisco Examiner, Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger, Atlantic City Press, Philadelphia Inquirer among other smaller papers. Comment by clicking here.


06/28/04: Now, they're killing the good ol' American backyard barbeque!
04/20/04: Once again, it's TV's fault

03/31/04: My kids have been watching the news again!
03/26/04: Why are we still annoying Americans with metrics?

© 2004, Dean P. Johnson