San Francisco Backs Down on Cellphone Radiation Law

After a legal challenge by CTIA-The Wireless Association, the city of San Francisco has decided to halt its plan to enforce an ordinance  requiring warnings to consumers about the dangers of cellphone radiation. Some associations support the health claim, but others contend it's misleading.

With cellphones becoming an integral part of everyday life, it was only a matter of time before legislation and litigation emerged over their health effects.

But the city of San Francisco, which passed a first-in-the-nation measure to compel mobile providers to provide information on alleged radiation dangers of the devices, appeared ready to scrap its cellphone law on Tuesday afternoon.

Here are more details on the case.

What happened: In 2010, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to pass an ordinance requiring retailers to warn consumers of potential radiation dangers associated with cellular devices. (The law, which had never gone into effect, required retailers to present radiation levels next to devices and give consumers a fact sheet noting that the World Health Organization considers cellphone frequencies a “possible carcinogen.”) However, last year, a federal appeals court ruled that the law was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Noting that the fact sheet contained controversial statements, the court said that “the ordinance compels statements that are even more misleading and controversial than the revised fact sheet.”

One association’s role: The challenge to San Francisco’s ordinance was brought by CTIA-The Wireless Association, which argued that the devices are already regulated under federal law. In a 2011 motion seeking a preliminary injunction, the group argued that “the public interest factor tilts heavily in favor of injunctive relief because the public interest will be harmed by the city’s misleading warnings and its effort to discourage cellphone use.” The association’s members include many players in the mobile industry, including Verizon Wireless and Samsung.

Latest developments: On Tuesday, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted to approve a settlement allowing for a permanent injunction against the ordinance. Some city supervisors cited legal costs and the potential that a further appeal would fail. “It’s a very tough situation, but the last thing I want is to have the general fund give half a million dollars to lawyers in this case,” Supervisor Dave Campos said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Support for the measure: Many of the advocates for the original ordinance criticized the city’s decision. Ellen Marks of the California Brain Tumor Association, a group founded to draw attention to the negative health effects of cellphones, spoke up on the issue to Reuters. “This is just a terrible blow to public health,” said Marks, who blames her husband’s brain tumor on prolonged cellphone usage. The group protested the supervisors’ vote outside of City Hall on Tuesday. The Environmental Working Group also opposed the decision to settle the lawsuit, with Renee Sharp, the group’s research director, explaining to the wire service that “it is that it is dangerous to wait until there is scientific consensus about a potential health threat before providing consumers with information on how they can protect themselves.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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