San Francisco Battles to Uphold Nation’s First Cellphone Radiation Law

San Francisco Battles to Uphold Nation’s First Cellphone Radiation Law


San Francisco is taking the potential threat of cellphone radiation seriously. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to approve legislation that would require retailers to educate consumers on cellphone radiation risks. The law mandates that retailers display educational posters and hand out fact sheets with each cellphone purchase. Retailers would have to give tips on how to reduce radiation, but they do not have to mention cancer.

This is an amended ordinance, as the original law had faced threats and intimidation from the cellphone industry in 2010. In June of that year, San Francisco passed the nation’s first cell phone radiation ordinance with a vote of 10-1 that would have forced retailers to display the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of each cellphone. SAR units measure the amount of cellphone non-ionizing radiation that gets absorbed into the user’s local tissues. It’s worth noting several factors affect the levels of radiation we are exposed to when using cellphones, which include quality of reception, shape and size of the phone, weather conditions and distance of the phone to our heads.

The cellphone industry responded with a lawsuit. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, wary of going against the cellphone industry’s threatening legal force, decided to amend the law. Instead of retailers displaying the SAR of each cellphone, they will give out educational material. Lawyers for the city are confident that the new law will not prompt another lawsuit. The board is scheduled to take a final vote on July 26. If the ordinance passes, Mayor Ed Lee will have 10 days to sign it into law.

Earlier this year the World Health Organization announced that cellphone radiation was “possibly carcinogenic” based on an increased risk of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with cellphone use. The WHO upgraded cellphones to a 2B classification, which means there is “limited” evidence. Also on the list of 2B classification are pickled vegetables and coffee.

The strongest evidence so far comes from a 2004 Swedish study, which found that an increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a type of benign brain tumour, was associated with mobile phone use. The risk occurred only if the cellphone user had operated cellphones for more than 10 years. Additionally, there is evidence that suggests cellphones lower sperm count and disturb sleep.

There is debate as to whether cigarette warning labels have much of an effect, as many people simply ignore them or quickly become desensitized to their graphic images. Would cellphone warning pamphlets be tossed in the garbage as soon as buyers leave the store? If you believe cellphone radiation is a real concern, radiation prevention tips can be easily found on the web (check out our guide) and it’s questionable whether this new law will have the effect that supporters hope for. At any rate, it’s crucial that information regarding the safety of cellphones should be made available to the public, as the industry that relies on selling cellphones to make profit clearly cannot be relied on to provide that information.