San Francisco Cell Phone Safety Law to Be Debated in Court This Week

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Travis Isaacs
Internet shopping for e-cigarettes
Cell Phone users in the 21st century are just like cigarette smokers were in the 1950s -- addicted to the buzz.

But, like cigarettes, do cellphones really need "warning labels" alerting us to their potential health dangers? Well, that's exactly what San Francisco is trying to find out.

On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hold oral arguments, during which proponents and opponents of San Francisco's cell phone ordinance will duke it out.

In June 2010, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. that required retailers to post information about how much radiation cell phones emit. The San Francisco Department of the Environment was also forced to disclose possible health risks caused by cell phones, including the mobile devices' specific absorption rates (SAR).

As a result of this ordinance, the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry sued San Francisco last year in federal court on the grounds that the SAR label misled consumers and violated the industry's First Amendment rights. City officials agreed to shelve the original law in May, and enforcement of the ordinance is now on hold, pending appeal.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who is defending the city's cell phone ordinance, sees this as companies' attempt to "keep their own customers in the dark," he said in a written statement.

Last year, the World Health Organization concluded that there was enough evidence to classify cell phone radiation as "possibly carcinogenic," placing it in the same category as lead and mercury. As a result of their conclusions, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) commissioned a report to review Federal Communication Commission standards.

The GAO released a report two weeks ago in which it worried that the FCC was slacking with its research on the links between cell phone radiation and cancer.

Here's a snippet of the report:

"FCC's current RF energy exposure limit for mobile phones, established in 1996, may not reflect the latest evidence on the thermal effects of RF energy exposure.... FCC has not formally asked FDA or EPA for their assessment of the limit since 1996, during which time there have been significant improvements in RF energy research and therefore a better understanding of the thermal effects of RF energy exposure. This evidence has led to a new RF energy exposure limit recommendation from international organizations."

As it turns out, San Francisco has been a trendsetter. Yesterday, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced the Cell Phone Right to Know Act. This would require cell phones to have warning labels and would create a new national research program to study the effects of cell phones on health as well as updated SARs.

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