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Are you incandescent with rage over lightbulbs?

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Vaughan | 11:09 UK time, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Incandescent lightbulbs ... it was a pun, see? Oh, never mind.

Right, well, quite the strangest news story going around in these cash-strapped times is that the UK is experiencing something of an unseemly consumer rush on lightbulbs. Yes, lightbulbs of all things. The old incandescent filament-style bulbs are selling out in their hundreds, leaving shelves empty all over the country. Why? Well, it's because they're about to be banned. The brightest 100 watt ones are going first, to be followed by all the other wattages (60 watt is my favourite, but then I'm a bit of a traditionalist) over the next three years to 2012.

It's all part of moves by the European Union to protect the environment. Their new regulations have set minimum energy efficiency targets for bulbs, meaning that the old-fashioned filament sort is out, and we're going to have the modern energy-efficient variety. The EU claims that this legislation will save the rough equivalent of the energy consumption of Romania.


You'd think, then, that in our increasingly environmentally aware society, this move would be welcomed with open arms. But no, there have been vocal protests - and not just from perhaps rather more predictable quarters such as the DailyMail, which has been giving away 25,000 traditional lightbulbs in outrage at further European intervention in British affairs.

Of more interest to us here at Ouch! are the concerns being raised by various groups of disabled people, who say that the demise of the humble incandescent bulb will adversely affect them - from partially sighted people who rely on the brightness of 100 watt bulbs, which cannot be equalled with the energy-efficient alternatives, to those with conditions such as epilepsy, migraines and lupus, where it's claimed that the more modern bulbs can worsen their symptoms.

Last night, Radio 4's PM programme featured a short debate on the matter between John Bowis, the Conservative MEP spokesman on Environment and Health, and Dr Matt Prescott of Ban the Bulb. You can still listen again to the programme on iPlayer - go to 48:52 for the start of the item.


Mr Bowis pointed out that this legislation will affect a "small but significant number of people" and "would mean pain, would mean disfigurement, would mean panic attacks, would mean inability to go into public places, because they cannot cope with the damage to their particular illness - like lupus, epilepsy or autism - which these new bulbs would cause". He also mentioned possible adverse side-effects for people with psoriasis, eczema, migraines, asperger's and ME. His stance was that the ban should not be halted, but that it should at least be delayed until an adequate alternative to incandescent bulbs is available for those who need it.

On the opposing side, Dr Prescott from Ban the Bulb accepted that there were certain health problems that could arise as a result of the ban, but that targeted medical exemptions could be made - for visually impaired people, for instance, and those with light-sensitivity issues. He maintained, however, that this shouldn't be used as a pretext for keeping the old lightbulbs on the shelves for everyone, which he felt was a danger at the moment.

So with the ban on its way, and the first incandescent bulbs vanishing fast, will such medical exemptions be granted? Are we about to see lightbulbs made available by prescription, and collected from your local high street chemist along with your medication? Or maybe traditional lightbulbs will go underground, onto the black market. Men with ridiculously padded overcoats sidling up to people on street corners, and whispering "Okay guv'nor - I've got 100 watt, 75 watt and 60 watt under 'ere. A special rate to you - just fifty quid for a pair. Can't say fairer than that now, can I?" The mind boggles ...

Are you worried about the imminent ban on incandescent lightbulbs? Is your disability likely to be adversely affected by the energy-efficient bulbs that we're all going to be compelled to use? Tell us what you think in the comments.


  • Comment number 1.

    They are most definitely dimmer than the 100w bulbs. And they don't help when you're working on your computer. Ban the interfering tree-huggers instead.

  • Comment number 2.

    Both sides have valid points. I'm in favour of cutting down energy consumption where we can and my house has been all CFD bulbs for a while, but the phase-out is clearly being rushed and the ability to see the whole picture is being obscured by the zeal to go green.

  • Comment number 3.

    I am visually impaired , and yes I use energy saving bulbs
    as they last longer and changing a bulb is very difficult for me .
    However I have bought more lamps to get the light levels higher so use more bulbs
    I also turn threm on sooner as they take time to reach their full light
    So am i saving energy and the environment -m probably not

    And to quote the obvious VI people are already more environmentally friendly since we can't drive and thus pollute the atmosphere with carf emissions

  • Comment number 4.

    This worrying future lack of incandescent lightbulbs and the impact of a ban on them for people with light sensitive medical conditions, was first blogged about in March 2007 by Sally's Life - A Light Bulb Moment. For the up to date position, see the website of Spectrum Alliance and their campaign on light bulbs at spectrum alliance dot org dot uk. They are asking all people with light sensitive conditions to contact them so they can represent their concerns to the decision makers. Make sure you doctor or specialist knows too, and records your light sensitivity, so that you are well documented as needing incandescent light bulbs in the future.

  • Comment number 5.

    A member of my family has bad visual problems and the low energy saver light bulbs have caused her nightmares. She sees things darker than someone with full sight and they do not light up quickly enough for her to see.So she can stumble in the dark. So now when we see 100 and 150 watt bulbs we buy as many as we can. i can't cope with main lights being low energy but I was able to buy three blue led special longlife halogen bulbs for my porch ceiling light. Expensive but the blue means you can see immediately who is at the front door without a fog in front of you.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'll definitely be affected, and so will many others, but like wartyferret I am able to compromise and use low energy bulbs in certain parts of the house. I wrote about this only the other day over at mine...can't do a link but is where it's at, with links to other areas of the debate.

  • Comment number 7.

    problem is people want a bargain.

    bargain low energy flourescent bulbs are cheap for a reason, that is

    - they don't have a warm start facility which allows the bulbs to achieve full brightness quicker. Basically better bulbs preheat the gas in the lamp before striking the arc that ignites the gas in the bulb that excites the light producing coating inside the bulb.

    - they don't contain the electronics to compensate for the natural flicker alledgedly induced in a flourescent bulb connected to a 50Hz AC power supply

    - they give off UVA (why I had to where shades at work all day when I had Psorlens PUVA) and UVB in very small amounts. cheap bulbs save money by not adding a coating of acrylic to the bulb surface which absorbs the UV emitted.

    - they haven't had the spectrum of light properly managed so as to match a standard incandescent or daylight bulb, which is done by altering the chemical makeup of the internal coating of the bulb that emits light.

    I have my whole house converted to low energy bulbs, all from well known manufacturers who have produced properly manufactured and researched products...there is no problem from them, and friends with severe migraine and even epilepsy have commented that the bulbs I use (All Phillips btw) do not cause them any discomfort.

    The bulbs cost £5 - £10 each bit last 20 times longer than conventional bulbs, so a long term saving. Actually I made back my money in lower bills and no bilb repalcements in 2 years.

    If you still can't cope with Flourescents then go for LED Lamps instead.

    You get what you pay for !!!

  • Comment number 8.

    I am already having terrible problems with these bulbs and as my main lighbulb chose Sunday to die on me I am living already with parrafin lighting!

    Firstly I have epilepsy and I find these lights going on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off all night when they are supposed to be off to be a risk to my life as I am prone to status epilepticus.

    Secondly, my house was built with all lighting on inbuilt dimmers, so I could not use energy efficient bulbs because they say not to use them with dimmer switches (I suspect that is why they cycle on and off all night even when switched off). I think it is the dimming system built into the house which causes the continuous power cycling on the neutral wire, which makes them cycle when turned off.

    I could not get dimmable ones locally, and ended up paying £130 to a taxi man to collect one from the nearest city (can't drive due to my disability). He got it, but that too cycled on and off the whole time it was supposed to be switched off. Spent another over £100 on another electrician, who just said that they do that with double pole double throw dimmers, espcially on 3 switch circuits! There way nothing he could do. Basically he thought my whole house was pretty useless with new bulbs, even though the house wireing was perfect - until energy saving bulbs came along!

    being disabled I have low income, so can't pay for my house to be re-wired differently. I really can't sleep with the light going on and off 7 or 8 times a minute and the only way to switch them off completely if you have a central whole house dimming system (the type installed when built into new houses) or is to plug and unplug the light bulbs - and beware - the heavy bits at the end of energy saving bulbs get very very hot and burn fingers!!!!!!!

    Additionally I don't believe that all this lighting the whole time they are switched off is really FREE of environmental impact. It may well be a totally capacitance load as by electrician says, and not show on my bill due to the way electric meters work, but it still costs the energy generators and wastes energy and damages the environment far more than old type bulbs!!!!!

    So, for safety's sake, I am back using parrafin lamps, and even that causes eye strain as I work long hours with small writing and it is not very bright. In fact I an thinking of trying 60 watt old style bulbs instead (not really adequate to light 22ft x 13 ft room!)- but no doubt they will be banned soon.

  • Comment number 9.

    I too get that problem of lights never properly switching off with energy saving ones. They go on and off non stop, all night. Yes, my house has wired in dimmer switches too and three way switches (hall, living roonm and landing). I have had to swap to 60 watt bulbs old type, but find my eyes are killing me by about 8pm and the stinging eyes makes me feel so tired I have to go to bed at 8pm now! I just hope it isn't long before they realise that this just isn't going to work and re-introduce them, because this really wont work in winter when it gets dark earlier.

    Obviously flashing light on and off all night is wasting more power than these abominable things save. I thought we were supposed to be reducing electricity use, not increasing it!

    Glad to read above that I am not paying for this extra electricity I am using though and that somehow it doesn't register on electric meters :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    Hmm! Good news to some of us struggling with low earnings due to disability. It looks like that by installing these energy saving bulbs with 3 way switch and dimmer, we can have free lighting itf the switch is on the off position - Hmmm! also makes me wonder whether this uncharged electricity is the reason they think they are lower energy - perhaps they use far more electricity, but it is not all metered "due to the way electric meters work" - INTERESTING!

  • Comment number 11.

    Energy efficient light bulbs are the easiest first step consumers and businesses can take towards reducing their energy consumption. Products have gotten light years better in the past few years and, in my eyes, indisputably better for 99% of applications. Both [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] CFL and LED light bulbs run much cooler than incandescent bulbs, use energy much more efficiently, and do offer saving on your electricity bill. I am a vendor of energy efficient bulbs, so perhaps I am a bit biased, but I don't know why everyone doesn't switch today.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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