Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Cell phone industry to S.F. — Stop making sense

How does an industry lobby punish a city – that’s right, an entire city – for requiring more public disclosure about the industry’s products?

With money, of course. As you might expect from an industry lobby, it’s all about money.

The city in the crosshairs is San Francisco, one of the nation’s great historic and cultural centers. The Cellular Telephone Industry Association, CTIA for short, is threatening to stop holding conventions there and urging other electronics makers to join its economic boycott.

All because the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted 10-to-1 to require that cell phone retailers post the radiation output of various cell phones. The San Francisco lawmakers acted after the Environmental Working Group published an interactive Cell Phone Radiation Report detailing how emissions levels varied widely among more than 1,000 cell phones and smartphones.

Maureen Dowd on cell phone radiation

In a column headlined Are Cells the New Cigarettes?,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was warned by CTIA lobbyists that they might withdraw the industry’s convention, scheduled for October 2010, and that they intended to urge Apple, Cisco and other computer and electronics giants to shun the city by the Bay.

“Shame on them, to threaten the city,” Newsom said, according to Dowd. “It’s about as shortsighted as one could get in terms of a brand.”

Electronics industry adopts tobacco lobby tactics

The best defense is usually a good offense. The real question is, why is the cell phone industry so defensive? Why is it taking pages from the tobacco lobby’s playbook? Intimidation and bluster, as we all know, didn’t work so well for Big Tobacco.

It’s not as if the San Francisco government or EWG is advising people to stop buying and using cell phones. The city’s law mandates that cell phone makers and vendors disclose in retail stores what they are already required by law to tell the Federal Communications Commission — and the public. The only difference is, the information will be posted so that potential cell phone buyers can read it in stores, instead of being forced to burrow into the fine print of pamphlets, websites, technical manuals or legal filings.

EWG takes the position that until the many uncertainties about cell phone radiation are resolved, “we think it’s smart for consumers to buy phones with the lowest emissions.” To that end, EWG’s interactive database helps consumers make informed choices for themselves and their children.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes CTIA Vice President John Walls as saying, rather sulkily, “We felt they sent us a message about how they felt about the industry and the technology. And if that’s how the city feels, then we have to look at other viable options.” The industry lobby’s reflexive stance has been to deny the slightest possibility that cell phone radiation, high, low or mid-range, could ever be harmful. After the Board of Supervisors acted, Walls asserted, “The ordinance will potentially mislead consumers, suggesting that some phones are ‘safer’ than others.”

The fact is, nobody knows. The world’s leading experts on radiofrequency emissions, many of whom have been cooperating in a global, decade-long series of studies on the possible public health effects of wireless communications, have come up with inconclusive but troubling scientific evidence that long-term exposure to radiofrequency energy emitted by wireless devices could be linked to cancer, benign tumors and other health problems.

EU financing new study on child, teen cell phone use

Much more research is essential. Scientists continue to labor at the vexing mysteries of radiofrequency emissions, particularly those that touch on the potentially greater impact of this relatively new technology on children’s thinner skulls. The European Union is funding a broad new study that, the lead scientist has announced, will “investigate the risk of brain tumors from mobile phone use in childhood and adolescence.”

Maybe industry lobbyists are worried because discussion of the possible risks of cell phone radiation is no longer confined to wonks, geeks and earnest enviros. It’s now part of the national conversation. We all care, because, as the industry’s own figures show, very few of us want to do without our cell phones.

Still — the questions we’re asking aren’t softballs. They deserve answers

Vogue Magazine weighs in

Take the July issue of Vogue Magazine, the first and last words in all things haute and luxe, whose audience of high-powered professionals demands, and gets, serious, sophisticated reporting on personal health topics. Vogue examines the cell phone issue under the headline “Wake-up Call,” with the subhead: “With recent research raising questions about dangers of cell phone radiation, especially to children, Robert Sullivan wonders why more people aren’t listening.

Why indeed? Sullivan, who wrote the Vogue article, interviewed EWG senior scientist Olga Naidenko about comparisons between lung cancer among cigarette smokers and brain cancer among cell phone users. His conclusion:

“Making all cell phones safer is not like asking for a mission to Mars. It’s doable.”

So why doesn’t the cell phone industry just do it?

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6 Responses to “Cell phone industry to S.F. — Stop making sense”

  1. Wow, I can’t believe that this could happen in this day and age. What an outrage! And to think we all support the cell phone industry, what would they do if we decided to boycott them? I hope they realize that we’re all out here watching their next move.

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Dear Christine, Most of us love our connectivity, so I doubt we could make a consumer boycott stick. The jury’s out on the dangers, if any, of radiofrequency radiation. But like I said, we’re not saying cell phones are dangerous. We’re just saying they should be labeled as to emissions levels precisely and accurately.

      • I agree that the dangers (or lack thereof) are not currently known. I also agree that there should be proper labeling. It’s like what the FDA did about food labelling, there are things that they’re not 100% sure if they’re safe or not, label the products and let the consumers decide.

        This was a great informative article. Keep up the good work!

      • Elaine Shannon says:

        Thanks for adding your voice, Christine. It’s hard to argue with the public’s right to know.

  2. Chris Byrnes says:

    Wow. I always assumed the talk about cell phone radiation was just extremist nonsense. If the industry is this scared of basic publication there HAS to be something in it. Why else would they be so scared? I am going to put a LOT more emphasis on using a wired headset (at a minimum).

  3. AmandaBee says:

    If they were safe, I’d have one. But the more I read about the hazards associated with cell phones, the more I realize that the dangers far outweigh the inconveniences. I must say that I am worried about all the young people around me who use them day in, day out, sometimes as a replacement for a home phone… It’s high time we get this information out so the world can protect itself.