By Christmas all mobile telephone handsets sold in the UK will come with leaflets warning of the potential health risks the technology may pose to children, the Department of Health said today. The final wording is being worked out.

"The leaflets should be available in the shops, probably before Christmas, but we don't know exactly what date or exactly what they will say," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.

To date 34m mobile handsets have been sold in the UK, according to the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI), a group representing the mobile telephone industry. Some estimates put a quarter of those users under the age of 18, though the FEI feels that number "may be a little bit high", according to an FEI spokeswoman. About 4.5m handsets were bought over Christmas last year, and sales are expected to be high again this holiday season, the FEI said.

Government leaflets issued with phones are expected to warn parents to monitor and if necessary limit the amount of time children spend talking on their mobiles. The warning is based on a report published May 1999 by the UK's Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), entitled "Mobile Phones and Health" and known as the Stewart Report after William Stewart, chairman of the IEGMP.

Stewart's report singled out mobile phone use by children, the elderly and the infirm as cause for increased concern. "Children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head and a longer lifetime of exposure. We believe that the widespread use of mobile phone by children for nonessential calls should be discouraged," Stewart said at a press conference in May 1999.

The Department of Health, in London, can be contacted at +44-20-7210-4850, the IEGMP can be contacted in care of the National Radiological Protection Board, located in Oxfordshire, England, at +44-1235-822-742, The Lancet can be found on the Web at the address below and the Federation of the Electronics Industry, can be contacted on +44-207-331-2000.