Myth of harmful cell phone radiation is good business for IndiGo

When I fly, I always fly IndiGo. They’re not perfect but they and their services have become familiar, from their website (where I book my tickets) to when I exit the airport at my destination. The efficiency with which the IndiGo staff works – rather the economy of processes they follow – has seemed well thought-out. (For example, the air hostesses are sweet but the pilot also chips in over the intercom, keeping passengers updated about how high and fast they’re flying, etc.).

On my most recently flight, however, this facade of sanity was disturbed when I saw the following advertisement in their in-flight magazine:

Credit: Vasudevan Mukunth
Credit: Vasudevan Mukunth

You can see how that’d have gotten my goat. Indio strives to offer a highly optimised journey for the domestic traveller – including a healthy dose of pseudoscience. The funny thing is that the handheld extension plugged into the mobile phone has an electrical and electronic architecture similar to the one working inside the phone; the only difference is the absence of a signal receiver and emitter. It then follows that whatever radiation one is alleging the phone is serving as a hub of is all around us: if your phone is not on a call right now, some other phone in your vicinity surely is.

Cell phone radiation is not harmful because it is not ionising radiation. It’s that simple. Only ionising radiation can harm the body. It’s okay to want to protect yourself from threats but to believe your mobile phone is giving your head or your genitals cancer is stupid. On top of this, the product being advertised – aptly called the Phoni3 – promises to cut out 95% of the nonexistent harmful radiation. *facepalm* This is consumerism at the peak of its sway.

In fact, I’m curious why neither the makers of Phoni3 nor IndiGo saw fit to speak about background radiation. Did you know that the radiation your body is exposed to in the course of a six-hour flight is 444-times higher than the dose it receives if you live within 80 km of a nuclear power plant for a year? The reason we don’t panic is because even this elevated dose poses no danger to the human body. And the reason we don’t see an advertisement for lead-lined jackets or portable Faraday cages to wear/carry during air travel in the in-flight magazine is because it will be bad for business.

But anything short of hurting IndiGo can pass go. To wit, the following message is at the bottom of the same page containing the phone Phoni ad:

Credit: Vasudevan Mukunth
Credit: Vasudevan Mukunth

The government should ban advertisements for such products if only because, in this specific case, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been working to dispel beliefs that cell phone radiation is harmful to the body. Unless the civil aviation authority bans such ads, TRAI’s efforts will be in vain. The IndiGo in-flight magazine is available for 180 passengers per flight of an Airbus A320, and the airline flies 131 such flights across the country a day (as of April 10, 2017). That’s more visibility than the TRAI can manage without significant effort.

Featured image credit: Javier Cañada/Unsplash.

About Me

I’m a science editor and writer in India, interested in high-energy and condensed-matter physics, research misconduct, pseudoscience, science’s relationship with society, epic fantasy, open source/access/knowledge systems, H.R. Giger’s art, Goundamani’s comedy, Factorio, and most things that require a lot of time to get the hang of.