The city of Berkeley, California is pushing for cell phone packaging to carry a sticker warning about the potential for increased risk of cancer. If the ordinance is passed and survives legal assault from the industry, Berkeley will be the first city in the country to have such a policy, SF Gate reports. The Berkeley City Council will debate whether or not retailers should be required to place cancer warning stickers on cell phones on September 9th.
In 2010, San Francisco also tried to implement this policy but was defeated in federal court. Part of the wireless industry’s legal strategy was to argue that the stickers violated their First Amendment rights. Berkeley is planning to avoid this same situation by consulting a Harvard University law professor to draft the language of the sticker so that it follows First Amendment guidelines.
“Cell phones are a risk, and I believe the public has a right to information that’s credible, readable and understandable about the device they’re using,” said Max Anderson, Berkeley City Councilman. “I’m not intimidated by the cell phone industry. The legal department might be, but I’m not.” Anderson, who has a background in public health, is co-sponsoring the ordinance.
The Bay Area city has a 35,000-student university, an Apple store and dozens of wireless shops, resulting in more cell phone use than many other cities nearby.
The cell phone industry responded quickly to Berkeley’s proposal, and sent a letter to City Council arguing that the proposal violated federal regulations and that the matter had already been settled in court previously. The industry stated that radiation from cell phones is below than federal limits, and that no study has conclusively linked it to cancer.
This sentiment is not necessarily shared, however. National Brain Tumor Society spokesman Tom Halkin says that while no studies have shown a direct relationship, the possibility “has not been ruled out, either”.
Meanwhile, other experts are certain that cell phones carry a public health risk. Joel Moskowitz, head of UC Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health, is one of them. Moskowitz, who has been studying the issue since 2009, said that cell phones are “one of the top emerging public health risks.” Studies cited by the cell phone industry are outdated, he says, and newer technology compounded with the extra time people spend on their phones are likely to increase rates of brain cancer. “It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “The evidence is a lot more compelling than it has been.”
According to Moskowitz, radiation from cell phones can penetrate the skin and skill and become absorbed by the brain tissue. It can also lower sperm count in men who have the phones in their pockets. To minimize the risk, consumers should wear headsets, use speakerphone and keep distance from the phone as often as possible. Pregnant women and children are at the greatest risk.