Dying to Talk: Cellphones and Cancer

06/18/2010 03:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

San Francisco lives up to its forward-thinking reputation once again and passes a new law enforcing cellphone shoppers' "right to know."

A Tuesday vote, strongly supported by Mayor Gavin Newsom, will require retailers to post information about 'specific absorption rates' (SAR's), and the requirement that any phone sold in the United States have a rate no higher than 1.6 watts per kilogram. This info must be posted "in at least 11-point type -- next to phones."

SAR's, the amount of radio waves absorbed into the cellphone user's body tissue, is a highly contentious topic.

The Cellular Wireless Association, a trade group, says this legislation will confuse consumers -- and have them thinking "some phones are safer than others," says John Walls, VP, public affairs. "We believe there is an overwhelming consensus of scientific belief that there is no adverse health effect by using wireless devices and this kind of labeling gets away from what the F.C.C.'s standard actually represents."

The Federal Communications Commission regulates the $190 billion wireless industry.

There is not, as yet, conclusive evidence. The results of a cellphone user study in thirteen countries published last month in the International Journal of Epidemiology did find a small increase in a cancer that attacks cells surrounding nerves.

Resistance remains strong, a wider-ranging bill voted down in California in early June, and a bill in Maine to post cigarette-like warnings on cellphones defeated in March.

According to small business lobbyists in San Francisco opposed the legislation resisting any additional government mandates in times of economic hardship.

But mayoral spokesman, Tony Winnicker said, "This is not about discouraging people from using their cell phones. This is a modest and commonsense measure to provide greater transparency and information to consumers."

The posting requirements will begin in February 2011 and violators will face fines up to $300.

San Francisco -- ever forward-thinking and eco-conscious already has mandatory composting and a ban on plastic bags.

"This is not about telling people not to use cellphones," added Winnicker. "Nobody loves his iPhone more than Mayor Newsom." The Mayor has more than 1.3 million Twitter followers and vocally -- or virtually, considers the vote a significant victory.

A word of caution. Social media is now taking on the monoliths of fatty foods, sugary sodas, rash-inducing diapers, sickening generic drugs ... and now possibly cancer causing radiation emissions. What's next? Blogging?

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