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Mobile phone companies and manufacturers are to be served with billion-dollar lawsuits from US brain tumour victims, according to The Times.

The cases are being brought forward by the same legal firm that won record damages from the tobacco industry for smokers with lung cancer. The premise is the same: that companies knew the health risk attached to the product but didn't adequately warn the public of these dangers.

Although you'd have to be a halfwit to believe that mobiles are entirely safe, it seems unlikely that these cases will follow the tobacco case as medical opinion is still split on the danger that phones pose. The theory runs that the radiation emitted and received by the phone - held very close to the head - damages the brain and causes tumours.

Follow endless new scientific studies, the UK government for example has changed its tune not once, not twice but three times in the past year. Currently, it advises caution and has put £7 million into a research project into finding out the real risk.

Of course, a cynic would point out that since the mobile phone industry in a multi-billion pound one (and growing), there just might be some value in withholding scientific evidence or even producing skewed evidence of your own to confuse matters.

While the tobacco case was one of hideous deception for profit, at least mobile phone companies are going through the motions of having their phones tested by radiation experts. Plus there's the matter of time. Tobacco companies misled consumers for twenty years. Mobiles didn't exist twenty years ago. But then with the increasingly emotional and irrational US legal system, you just never know anymore.

The lawsuits (two by March, another seven or eight by the end of 2001) will be filed in California, Kentucky and Maryland and will apparently be against a mobile handset manufacturer, a mobile phone network provider and a local land-line company. The Times named Verizon as one of the likely defendants. It is 45 per cent owned by UK mobile giant Vodafone. ®

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