By Paul Elias, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- San Francisco's attempt to wade into the hotly debated relationship between cell-phone use and long-term health effects was delayed for at least a week Thursday -- and possibly much longer.
City attorneys agreed to U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup's request to put off implementing the new law that would require city retailers selling cell phones to hang posters, put stickers on products and hand-out brochures discussing radiation emissions and possible health effects.
The judge asked for the delay until ruling on the industry's request for an injunction while he considers its lawsuit challenging the law. The law was to go in effect on Tuesday. Alsup said he would rule on the industry's request for an injunction "within a week."
San Francisco Supervisors voted 10-1 in 2010 for the first-in-the-nation law that was to go in effect on Tuesday after previous delays prompted by an industry lawsuit.
During a hearing Thursday in San Francisco federal court, the judge appeared skeptical of San Francisco's contention that long-term cell phone use could lead to serious health problems such as tumors and cancer.
"There is no scientific proof," Alsup told Deputy City Attorney Vince Chabria. "You can't prove that a single person in the entire universe has gotten cancer from a cell phone."
Chhabria countered that the opposite was also true: that no scientific proof existed guaranteeing cell phones were completely safe. Chhabria said the city's posters and brochures were intended to help concerned consumers with recommendations like using a belt clip rather than putting the device in a pants pocket.
Chhabria said the World Health Organization has found frequent cell phone usage could lead to cancer and recommends reducing exposure.
Alsup replied that the Federal Communications Commission has found the cell phones safe and that officials at the "FCC, not the WHO are the experts."
The judge did not appear persuaded that cell phone usage was a threat to human health, noting that San Franciscans have been "bathed" in radio emissions from a prominent transmission tower in the city for decades with no reported health problems.
"Anything is possible," Alsup said. "Let's put a brochure about UFOs. If you have concerns about UFOs, here are the steps you can take."
The judge was also concerned that a city-produce sticker discussing radiation emission doesn't disclose the source of the information.
"This looks like it comes from Samsung," Alsup said of the sticker.
An industry group that filed the lawsuit contends the city's ordinance violates its free speech rights by requiring it to distribute a city opinion about radio emissions it doesn't believe.
"The city has basically taken over the store to get out its message," lawyer Andrew McBride said.
The city says its literature is not a warning, but is intended to be informational only.