Jewish World Review July 6, 2004 / 17 Tamuz, 5764
Dean P. Johnson
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
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.
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