A poster for charity Electrosensitivity-UK, seen in July and August 2019, featured a headline which stated “How safe is 5G?” above an image of a family of three holding hands as they walked their dog. The ad featured four quotes from various professionals detailing their comments which opposed the rollout of 5G network technology and listed a range of health effects such as “reduced male fertility, depression, disturbed sleep and headaches, as well as cancer”.
Seven complainants challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that 5G network technology posed a risk to health.
Electrosensitivity-UK said there had been no tests on the safety of 5G signals and existing evidence already proved that its type of radiation was unsafe, which was the same evidence on the effects of 2G, 3G and 4G radiation. They said the question “How safe is 5G?” was open-ended and asked a legitimate safety question, which had been asked since it was discovered that all forms of electromagnetic energy could be unsafe. They said the question was unbiased and allowed readers to accept, reject or ignore it.
Electrosensitivity-UK said that all forms of electromagnetic radiation could be considered safe or unsafe and that international safety groups and safety guidelines, such as Bioinitiative 2012, EUROPAEM EMF Guidelines 2016, International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) 1998, IGNIR 2018, Seletun 2010 and USSR 1959 existed for that reason. Electrosensitivity-UK said the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) factsheet entitled “Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones” could not be relied upon because it was not a peer-reviewed study, was outdated due to its publication in 2014, was factually incorrect in numerous aspects, omitted established confirmation of radiofrequency as a cause of electrosensitivity and cancer among many other adverse outcomes, and made no specific reference to 5G.
They said the UK Government’s Guidance entitled “Mobile phone base stations: radio waves and health” relied on an invalidated Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) 2012 report and ignored up to 80% of studies showing adverse health effects. They said the European Parliament briefing of March 2019 entitled “Mobile phones and health: Where do we stand” held a long-invalidated heating hypothesis and rejected the European Environment Agency’s Recommendation to adopt a Precautionary Approach to 5G signals. Electrosensitivity-UK said that the millimetre waves planned for 5G were used in military warfare and some civilian crowd control, which confirmed that this type of 5G radiation could cause adverse reactions in the ordinary population, especially those sensitive to it, and that the numbers of people harmed by electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency wireless radiation in the UK appeared to be growing.
They said other countries, such as France, had banned WiFi and mobile phones in schools for safety reasons and had launched electromagnetic hygienic campaigns, and that the BBC had repeated a report over 5G dangers four times on a single day in June 2019, as well as other UK media outlets reporting that thousands in Switzerland demonstrated against 5G dangers.
Electrosensitivity-UK said 5G’s lack of safety was corroborated by the ‘Phonegate’ scandal which concerned the sale of mobile phones with actual radiation emissions exceeding levels reported in their accompanying documentation and meant that some phones failed to comply with ICNIRP’s 1998 short-term heating guidelines and long-term biological guidelines.
Electrosensitivity-UK provided reference to over 30 studies and referred to their website, which they said contained over 2,000 studies and references. They referred specifically to the National Toxicology Program’s “Cell Phone Radio Frequency Radiation” study, conducted on rats and mice to help clarify potential health hazards, including cancer risk, from exposure to radiofrequency radiation.
The headline “How safe is 5G?” appeared above an image of a family of three walking a dog across the street and blue-coloured contours which signified 5G radio waves. Alongside the four quotes in the ad was text which included “The 5G rollout is absolutely insane” and “The people are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit”, plus further text that set out a list of “Health effects”.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the ad that there was robust, scientific evidence that demonstrated negative human health effects caused by 5G signals. The advertiser therefore needed to hold robust evidence to that effect, including, but not limited to, longitudinal studies with human participants.
The WHO factsheet on “Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones”, which took account of several large completed and ongoing multinational epidemiological studies, including case-control studies and prospective cohort studies examining a number of health endpoints in adults, one of which was coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), determined that no adverse health effects had been established as being caused by mobile phone use. We noted the advertiser’s view that the factsheet was inaccurate. However, we considered the report formed that position based on extensive scientific examination and we understood that WHO, together with the IARC considered the available evidence fell short of being conclusive that exposure to all radio frequency radiation, of which mobile signals were a part, might cause cancer in humans. We noted that WHO were, at the time the ad was seen, conducting an ongoing project to assess potential health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in the general and working population.
The UK Government’s guidance, which took account of the most up-to-date robust evidence from WHO, the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR) and the European Commission, had concluded that many exposure measurements had been made in the UK at publicly accessible locations near to base stations and that they had all been consistently well within the guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), recognised by WHO as an official collaborating non-governmental organisation whose aim was to protect people and the environment against adverse effects of non-ionising radiation.
We assessed the material referred to by Electrosensitivity-UK in their submissions. We considered many of the articles and studies, such as the NTP study, were not adequate because they concerned animal experiments (such as mice, rats and rabbits), rather than studies which specifically examined human health. The NTP study also assessed 2G and 3G signals, and we understood that the NTP were still in the process of evaluating the 5G network. Many of the articles provided were not studies, but reviews of the current context of research in the area. One, for example, stated that the author was “very concerned that 5G may produce effects like those we already see produced from lower frequency EMFs but are much more severe”, but said that “the only way to find out is to do biological safety testing on genuine 5G radiation”, and concluded that “we have no risk analysis or risk management because we have no risk assessment whatsoever on 5G”. Another was a YouTube video of a Canadian radio talk show in which a scientist hypothesised the extinction of life forms due to 5G radiation. That material, along with many others, lacked the robustness of an appropriately designed observational study or clinical trial, and we therefore considered that it was insufficient to substantiate claims made about human health.
For the above reasons, we did not consider that the evidence demonstrated that 5G signals caused negative human health effects and therefore considered that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Electrosensitivity-UK to ensure they did not make claims which implied there was robust scientific evidence that demonstrated negative human health effects caused by 5G signals or that specific medical conditions had been shown to be caused by 5G signals, unless they held adequate substantiation for such claims.