Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced the Cell Phone Right to Know Act Aug. 6. The bill requests that a national research program be established to study cell phones and their potential effects on users' health, that data on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR)the amount of radio-frequency energy that's absorbed by the body while using a cell phonebe updated, and that warning labels be created for cell phones to alert consumers to varying SARs.
"Some studies find links. Some don't. But studies funded by the telecommunications industry are significantly less likely to find a link between cell phones and health effects. We need a first-class research program to give us answers," Kucinich said in a June 30 statement announcing his intent to introduce the bill.
"Until we know for sure," Kucinich continued, "a labeling law will ensure that cell phone users can decide for themselves the level of risk that they will accept. Obviously, cell phone companies should not be the ones making that decision for us."
Kucinich pointed to the Interphone study released in March, which he says pointed to the possibility of a link between cell phone use and brain tumors when the data was broken down (on the whole, the study concluded there was no risk). For example, those using cell phones for 30 minutes per day were found to have a 40 percent increased risk of glioma, a type of tumor that starts in the brain or spine. If the phone is used mostly on one side of the head, said the statement, that risk increases to 96 percent.
The World Health Organization, Kucinich also notes, last May concluded that there is enough evidence to link cell phone use with health problems to "classify it as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans,' placing it in the same category as lead and mercury."
The issue remains a thorn in the side of the wireless industry.
In 2010, Andrea Boland, a state representative from Maine, asked the state legislature to consider a bill that would likewise place warning labels on both cell phones and their packaging. A version of the bill was later rejected by the Maine House of Representatives.
The same year, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors made national headlines by voting in favor of a bill that would require retailers to display, in 11-point type or larger, the amount of radiation emitted by each phone.
As with the Maine legislation, the CTIA, a group representing the wireless industry, came out against the bill, saying that posted SAR information could "potentially mislead consumers." Within weeks, it filed a lawsuit against San Francisco. A spokesperson explained that "displaying a phone's SAR value at the point-of-sale suggests to the consumer that there is a meaningful safety distinction between FCC-compliant devices with different SAR levels."
Gavin Newsom, San Francisco's mayor at the time, expressed disappointment in the CTIA's response and said he was surprised it would rather spend money in court than work with San Francisco to "comply with a reasonable law that provides greater transparency and information without putting any undue burdens on small businesses or discourage cell phone use in any way."
In October 2011, the trade group succeeded in getting the city to "postpone" what it was calling the "Right to Know Ordinance."
This week, a federal appeals court in San Francisco is expected to reconsider the ordinance.
Timing his bill to the events in San Francisco, Kucinich said in an Aug. 6 statement:
It took decades for scientists to be able to say for sure that smoking caused cancer. During those decades, the false impression created by industry supporters was that there was no connection between smoking and cancer, a deception which cost many lives. While we wait for scientists to sort out the health effects of cell phone radiation, we must allow consumers to have enough information to choose a phone with less radiation. As long as cell phone users may be at increased risk of cancer or reproductive problems, Americans must have the right to know the radiation levels of cell phones.
The CTIA, in an Aug. 7 statement, said it "continues to defer to the views of scientific experts, federal agencies with expertise and impartial health organizations."
The FCC, it added, "has noted on its Website that 'currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses,' and that 'all wireless phones sold in the United States meet government requirements that limit their RF energy to safe levels."