Can Smartwatches Cause Cancer?
New technologies have always sparked new health fears, but when The New York Times published an article titled “The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech” by writer Nick Bilton in the paper’s Styles section on March 18, 2015, the respected newspaper hit a collective nerve. It was printed a little more than a month before the official release of the Apple Watch, a defining moment in smartwatch history, Apple history, and tech history, and it was meant to warn consumers of the potential drawbacks of this shiny new device that Apple was hawking — specifically, that wearers of the Apple Watch, and smartwatches in general, may be at a heightened risk for cancer. To say that the article stirred up controversy would be an understatement. But the big question remains: Can smartwatches cause cancer?
Right away, well-regarded publications from The Washington Post to Business Insider to The Verge called The New York Times out on sensationalist journalism, passing off junk science as truth, using a click-bait-y headline, and causing problems where none exist.
The Washington Post also pointed to this study on the American National Cancer Institute website, which explicitly states that “most studies have found no association” between using mobile phones (which share some technology with smartwatches) and the onset of cancer.
So, case closed, right? No so fast.
Like we said in the first sentence, new technologies have always sparked health fears, and smartwatches represent some of the newest technology around.
Like the snowballing controversies surrounding vaccines and genetically engineered foods, the fear of the unknown is strong when it comes to wearing or using powerful communication devices close to our bodies.
There’s also the concern that we don’t always know that something we’re doing is harmful until it starts harming us.
For example, for the first two thirds of the 20th Century, cigarettes were considered harmless; their true health implications weren’t revealed until smokers started dying of lung cancer, and even then, cigarette companies tried mightily to suppress the truth.
Is that what’s happening with mobile phones and smartwatches? The answer is that we probably won’t know for a while — and that’s scary to a lot of people.
There are also studies that do link exposure to RF radiation from mobile phones to tumours, which keeps concerns high. This same RF radiation is present in smartwatches that have 3G capabilities (and can be used without a synced smartphone), and that’s where some people really get concerned.
Is it bad to wear an RF-emitting device on your wrist all day?
We just don’t know, and while some people aren’t worried, there are many who aren’t willing to take the risk.
Can Smartwatches Cause Cancer? Tentative Conclusions
Just a day after The New York Times printed their controversial article, they ran a follow up that partially defended Bilton’s column, partially acknowledged that it should have also been worked on by editors in the newspaper’s Science section (and not just the Style section), and partially admitted, at the end, that the column “clearly needed much more vetting” and a more objective look at the facts rather than the speculation.
The good news is that the Apple Watch and many other smartwatches do not rely on mobile 3G networks for their connectivity.
That means no RF radiation, which means that there’s probably no cancer risk involved in wearing them.
If you’re wearing a smartwatch that does require a 3G data, such as an LG Watch Urbane 2, there’s a lot of evidence and a lot of “evidence” that you’ll want to look at.
The short answer is that no, smartwatches probably don’t cause cancer.
As for the long answer, check back in 40 or 50 years.
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Apple Watch Series 2