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Maine To Debate Cell Phone Warning Labels


Maine Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, says cell phones need warning labels because it is possible they cause brain cancer. Although scientists have not reached a consensus on this issue, the Maine legislative leaders have granted her the right to raise the proposal about cell phones for discussion.

The safety of cell phone and the possibility they may cause brain tumors or even salivary gland cancer has been debated and researched for years. Most recently, researchers at the Copenhagen climate conference said there is no increased risk of brain tumors from using cell phones. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted a ten-year study which reportedly has found a link between long-term use of cell phone and brain tumors. In October, the study’s head, Dr. Elisabeth Cardis, was reported in London’s Daily Telegraph to state that “In the absence of definitive results and in the light of a number of studies which, though limited, suggest a possible effect of radiofrequency radiation, precautions are important.”

In September 2009, the Environmental Working Group released an online consumer guide that provides information on cell phone radiation emissions to consumers so they can make their own decisions about cell phone use. In that same month, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he wanted to investigate the possible links between cell phone use and cancer.

Now a Maine legislator wants to go one step further and place warning labels. The state currently has about 950,000 cell phone users. Rep. Boland is not alone in her quest: Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco is attempting to make his city the first in the nation to require such warnings.

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Rep. Boland, who uses a cell phone but says she keeps the speaker away from her head and turns the phone off unless she is expecting a call, will bring her proposal up during the 2010 sessions, which begin in January. Her bill would require manufacturers to place warning labels on phones and their packaging, noting the potential for brain cancer. Children and pregnant women in particular would be warned to keep the phone away from their head and body.

Mayor Newsom would like to see a print display of the absorption rate level next to each phone where it is sold. Although Boland’s bill does not make specific reference to absorption rate levels, it would require a permanent warning and include a color graphic of a child’s brain next to the text.

More than 270 million people in the United States had signed up for cell phone service last year, more than double the number in 2000, according to CTIA—The Wireless Association. The Federal Communications Commission and the CTIA both maintain that cell phones sold in the United States are safe.

Concerns about cell phone use are not unique to the United States. The European Parliament passed a resolution asking for governmental action to investigate health risk concerns from cell phone use. The international BioInitiative Working Group notes that many countries have issued warnings about cell phone use as well. The Group itself warns that cell phone use may be linked to brain tumors and other health risks.

Whether Maine Rep. Boland will be successful in getting warning labels placed on cell phones or San Francisco will become the first city in the United States to require cell phone warnings remains to be seen. But with more than 270 cell phone users in the United States, and all indications that the number will continue to grow, it seems unlikely that placing a warning label on what has become a must-have device will have much impact on users. Just look at the history of warning labels on cigarettes.

Associated Press
BioInitiative Working Group
Environmental Working Group
Daily Telegraph, Oct. 26, 2009
World Health Organization