Cell Phone Industry Sues San Francisco

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Last month, San Francisco became the first city in the country to approve a law requiring retailers to list the amount of radiation emitted by the cell phones they sell. When announcing the new policy, Mayor Gavin Newsom stated his belief that consumers should have access to this information as it could influence their health and therefore their buying decisions. But now, the cell phone industry is taking issue with this legislation.

The CTIA, an international nonprofit organization that represents the wireless industry, has filed a lawsuit to prevent the city from enforcing the new law. The group argues that this law essentially undermines the approval process of the federal government.

As the CTIA stated in a press release announcing the lawsuit, both the FCC and the FDA have already determined that cell phones on sale in the U.S. are safe. As a result, they argue that San Francisco’s new law may “suggest to the consumer that there is a meaningful safety distinction between FCC-compliant devices” with regard to radiation levels when there is no evidence to support this.

In fact, both sides seem to rely on the same point as a means of defense: The information about radiation levels is already public. According to Newsom, this just makes the new law a “common sense” way to ensure that the information is “more accessible” to consumers. But from CTIA’s perspective, the information is public enough and does not need to be published on the phone’s packaging.

Part of the question then seems to be whether consumers have a clear understanding of what this information means and how it should affect their purchasing decisions. As PC World noted, “It's a good thing the CTIA is suing San Francisco over an inane law that will publicize cell phone radiation levels in stores, because this a rare case where more information is too much.”

Beyond this, the cell phone industry has argued that studies have failed to conclusively prove that  using wireless technology can lead to damaging health effects. The World Health Organization conducted a massive 10-year study only to come up with inconclusive results. Yet, other smaller studies have found that cell phones are linked to everything from brain cancer to a ringing in your ears and even the decline of the world’s bee population.

There is now another large scale study underway that will analyze the effects of cell phones on 1 million users over the course of the next 30 years, and hopefully it will produce a definitive result. But does that mean legislators should wait another 30 years before enacting any policy that could help consumers prevent potential health risks now?

While San Francisco is the only city to have passed this kind of legislation, earlier this year Maine also considered issuing a warning for radiation levels and other places may choose to do so in the future. So the verdict of this case may set a precedent for whether legislators can and should issue cell phone guidelines to prepare for a potential health crisis or wait years to react.

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