French authorities have signalled a tough stance to mobile phone companies for aiming their advertising to children under the age of 12.
In an official communiqué, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo announced that all advertising of the devices to children under 12 is to be prohibited under the legislation.
The minister also conveyed that he will move to ban the sale of any phone designed to be used by those under six.
It is reported in local French media that the government will also introduce new limits for radiation from the phones and make it compulsory for handsets to be sold with earphones, so that users can avoid irradiating their heads and brains. And one of the country's largest cities last month started an advertising campaign to discourage the use of the phones by children.
The clampdown represents the most comprehensive action yet taken by any government worldwide. The proposed moves are following the recommendations of an official report nine years ago that people aged under 16 should be discouraged from using mobiles, and that the industry should be stopped from promoting them to children. Since then their use by the young has almost doubled, so that nine out of 10 of the country's 16-year-olds own a handset.
Swedish research indicates that children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use the phones, causing some experts to predict an "epidemic" of the disease among today's young people in later life. But consideration of the threat to them has been specifically excluded from Britain's official £3.1m investigation into the risk of cancer from mobiles.
The French ministry warned that "mobile phone use is increasing at a rapid pace among youths", adding that the youth may be "more sensitive because their bodies are still developing".
Children's heads are smaller and their skulls thinner.
Lyon, France's second city, launched an advertising campaign before Christmas aimed at dissuading people from buying mobiles for children as presents, with the slogan "Let's keep them healthy, away from mobile phones!"
A year ago France's official Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety said parents should not give small children mobiles. And France's Health Ministry urged using them in moderation.
The French legislation is the latest evidence of growing official alarm at the hazards of the radiation caused by mobile phone use. In September, the European Parliament voted 522 to 16 to urge ministers across Europe to bring in stricter radiation limits, and the European Environment Agency has also issued a warning.
Toronto's Department of Public Health has advised that children under eight should only use mobiles in emergencies and teenagers should limit calls to less than 10 minutes.
The Russian Ministry of Health says that young people under 18 should not use the devices, and Israel's Health Ministry has also advised caution.
Most cell-phone firms have added new clauses to their service contracts that prohibit consumers from suing them, a major case against providers has yet to be won.
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