December 21, 2009

Legislator Strives For Mandatory Cell Phone Warning

A state Representative in Maine is attempting to enact legislation that would make the small but populous East Coast state the first in the union to require cell phones to bear a cancer warning label, according to the Associated Press. 

Despite scientific data that is at best dubious and inconclusive, Democratic Representative Andrea Boland says that she has convinced enough legislative leaders to bring her bill to the debate floor in the first session of 2010, citing various studies in recent years that point to the potential risk of cancer caused by cell phones.

Though Boland admits that she too uses a cell phone, she says that she always uses a speaker or headset in order to keep the phone away from her head and keeps the phone turned off except when making or expecting a call.

If Boland's proposed legislation is enacted into state law, cell phone manufacturers would be required to add warning labels to both cell phone packaging and the cell phones themselves that warn users of the possibilities of brain cancer associated with electromagnetic radiation.  The labels would also advise that women and children keep the gadgets away from their heads and bodies.

The design of Boland's bill would be printed on a non-removable sticker with bold red letters that read "warning," followed by a description of specific risks.  The label would also carry a color graphic of a child's brain beside the warning.

Despite anything remotely resembling a scientific consensus on the matter, Boland says that the vast majority of Maine's 1.3 million inhabitants simply "do not know what the risks are" of using cell phone. 

A similar measure proposed by the mayor of San Francisco's would require all retailers in the city to display absorption rate of a cell phone's radiofrequency energy in print at least as large as the price.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has until now maintained that all cell phones sold in the United States are safe.

According to the CTIA-Wireless Association, the number of cell phone subscribers in the U.S. has sprung from 160 million to 270 in the last decade, but they do not consider the devices to be a health risk.

"With respect to the matter of health effects associated with wireless base stations and the use of wireless devices, CTIA and the wireless industry have always been guided by science, and the views of impartial health organizations," John Walls of the CTIA explained to the Associated Press.

"The peer-reviewed scientific evidence has overwhelmingly indicated that wireless devices do not pose a public health risk."

Despite the paucity of evidence, some scientist have taken the "better safe than sorry" stance towards the issue.

In 2008, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute sent a note to the center's faculty and staff giving them a heads-up on the preliminary results of an unpublished study.  Herberman was referring to a report issued by retired electronics engineer L. Lloyd Morgan in which he pointed to data indicated an increased risk of brain tumors amongst people who had used cell phones or cordless phones for 10 or more years.

Herberman has contended that it often takes too long for the science community to reach a consensus.

Nevertheless, the National Cancer Institute has parried premature claims about the dangers of cell phones by maintaining that there is no clear scientific connection yet and that more studies are needed in the coming years before taking hasty action.

"Although research has not consistently demonstrated a link between cellular telephone use and cancer, scientists still caution that further surveillance is needed before conclusions can be drawn," read the institute's website.