San Francisco Passes Cell Phone Radiation Law

San Francisco could soon require all retailers to display the amount of radiation each phones emits, a move the city hopes will inform consumers who may be concerned about potential health risks associated with handset use.

The law, the first of its kind in the nation, came as the Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to give preliminary approval to the ordinance, despite a lack of conclusive scientific evidence showing that handsets are dangerous.

But the city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, called the vote a major victory for consumers’ right to know.

“We think that for the consumer for whom this is an area of concern, it ought to be easier to find,” said Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for Newsom. “It’s information that’s out there if you’re willing to look hard enough.”

Under the new legislation, stores will be required to post materials — in at least 11-point type — next to phones, disclosing their “specific absorption rate,” or SAR, which is a measure of radiation absorbed by the body. That means consumers walking into Bay Area AT&T stores could soon see whether the new iPhone has a SAR of 0.5, 1.0 or 1.6 watts per kilogram — the limit under federal regulations.

“It’s about helping people make informed choices,” said Sophie Maxwell, chief sponsor of the ordinance.

Over the years, there have been several studies on the potential hazards of cell phone radiation. But so far, researchers have been unable to nail down whether or not such a risk exists.

The wireless industry, meanwhile, sees the ordinance as a potential business-killing precedent, saying that the labels could actually confuse buyers into thinking some phones are safer than others.

“We believe there is an overwhelming consensus of scientific belief that there is no adverse health effect by using wireless devices,” said John Walls, a spokesman for the CTIA, a wireless trade group. “This kind of labeling gets away from what the FCC’s standard actually represents.”

San Francisco officials emphasized that the ordinance was meant to inform consumers rather than discourage cell phone use, or sales.

“This is not about telling people not to use cell phones,” Winnicker said. “Nobody loves his iPhone more than Mayor Newsom.”

While scientists have yet to provide concrete proof that phone use may pose health risks, federal and state regulators are, nonetheless, concerned. Last September, the U.S. Senate Health Committee launched an investigation into the potential connections between cell phone use and brain cancer, worrying that the link may be similar to the cigarette-lung cancer case of the 1970s where tobacco companies denied the cause for decades.

In March, lawmakers in Maine mulled over whether to put warnings on phones, similar to labels on cigarettes.

For those interested in SAR levels, CellRisk.com has a guide to radiation levels from different models of cell phones.

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