10/04/2011 02:17 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2011

San Francisco Cell Phone Lawsuit: Phone Companies Fight New Law

Just as San Francisco's first-in-the-nation cell phone radiation law goes into effect, a trade group representing the nation's cell phone manufacturers and service providers has sued the city to invalidate the law on First Amendment grounds.

The measure, which was pushed by former Mayor Gavin Newsom and went into effect earlier this month, requires retail locations selling cell phones to display warnings about phone radiation and have fact sheets on hand about reducing exposure upon request.

The industry group argues that, because cell phone companies dispute the health risks associated with the radiation emitted by their mobile devices, requiring them to post warnings about those risks is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The law initially mandated stores post the specific amount of radiation emitted by each phone; however, the ordinance was later amended to only require displaying a poster detailing possible health risks along with a fact sheet outlining ways for users to decrease their exposure.

The fact sheet offers a number of suggestions including limiting cell phone use by children, using a headset or speaker phone setting, texting instead of making calls, storing phones on belt clips instead of in pockets, avoiding use in areas with weak signals and turning off phones when not in use.

"Freedom of speech is about encouraging the exchange of ideas, not about keeping people in the dark about vital health information," City Attorney and mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I never like to predict how a court's going to rule, but I feel pretty confident that the ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors will pass muster."

"There’s no black or white here,” said Renee Sharp, California director for the Environmental Working Group, said in an interview with the Bay Citizen. "If you use a headset, it's definitely better, but maybe it's not better if you're putting your phone in your pocket. If it's not your head, it's your reproductive organs."

An informal poll of local retailers conducted by PC Magazine earlier this month found that none of the major stores selling mobile devices in the city had the mandated information on hand.

Stores are required to start complying with the law by the end of October.

The World Health Organization recently put out a report labeling cell phone radiation as "possibly carcinogenic." WHO scientists found increases in some types of tumors in cell phone users but needed longer-term studies to be able to tell definitively.