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Canada, San Francisco blaze forward on cell phone advisories

Thursday, October 20, 2011

As the world mourns the passing of iPhone creator Steve Jobs, San Francisco and Canada are blazing new paths to ensure that the public knows how to use cell phones safely.

On Oct. 4, responding to the World Health Organization's recent classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen, Canadian health officials updated their advice on safe cell phone use practices. In a significant step, Health Canada now advises parents to "reduce their children's RF exposure from cell phones," though it acknowledges that more research is needed to explore the consequences for human health of long-term exposure to cell phone radiation.

Canada joins France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Israel and Finland in officially recommending limiting cell phone radiation exposure to children. Health Canada's recommends that consumers limit the length of their cell phone calls, use "hands-free" devices and text instead of talking.

The U.S. government appears unwilling to take similar actions, but that has not stopped San Francisco from taking a step forward to protect public health. This month, the city will start requiring retailers to post an informational poster and distribute fact sheets to educate consumers about how they can take simple steps to limit their exposure to radiofrequency radiation from cell phones.

However, the fate of San Francisco ordinance depends on the outcome of a pending lawsuit filed by the wireless industry, which, apparently coincidentally, escalated its legal assault on the city the same day as the Health Canada announcement. In its revised complaint, CTIA, the wireless industry's main trade association, argues that its members' free speech rights are being violated because San Francisco is "compelling them to communicate messages and in a manner that is inaccurate and misleading, and that will harm consumers."

It's hard to imagine how a poster (above, right) whose tone is carefully measured -- reiterating unassailable facts scientific such as "cell phones emit radio-frequency energy" and "studies continue to assess potential health effects of mobile phone use"--could really be construed as inaccurate or misleading, much less harmful to consumers.

Even more amazing is CTIA's claim that San Francisco's ordinance conflicts with the federal government's effort to promote "the deployment of a robust, efficient, nationwide, wireless communications system."

Really? How is recommending that people text more or talk less going to really undermine that policy? After all, no one is asking consumers to get rid of their phones; rather they simply being advised to use them more safely.

If you want to talk about efficiency, one can't help but wonder whether the wireless industry should have spent more time making lower-RF cell phones instead of pouring all of this time, money and energy into fighting a simple campaign to educate the public about cell phone safety.

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