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Mobile industry fights San Fran 'carcinogen' labelling

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The ongoing battle against product labelling in San Francisco has now hit the courts, with the cellular industry fighting the City of San Francisco for the right to avoid mandatory labelling.

The court action, filed with the Northern District of California, argues that the City ordinance requiring mobile phone retailers to warn customers of radiation levels is in breach of the US First Amendment in requiring private parties to endorse what the CTIA considers to be a "controversial or false" message.

That message is that mobile phones damage health, something the industry robustly denies but is heavily implied by the flyer that the City of San Francisco is requiring retailers to hand out to every phone customer.

The flyer, reproduced by the UK's own Campaigners Against Stuff, states that "the World Health Organization has classified RF energy as a possible carcinogen". That's sort-of true – the WHO has decided that mobile phones have the same chance of causing cancer as carpentry or coffee – but it is also alarmist when taken out of that context and accompanied by "bright red, orange, and yellow circles emanating from cell phones and penetrating into the head and pelvic regions of users", as the CTIA's court filing describes it.

The flyer, and poster, are already concessionary efforts from the City. The original plan was to require every handset to have its Specific Absorption Radiation displayed at the point of sale. That information is already available on the regulator's website, and capped for public health, but San Francisco wanted it displayed alongside every device on sale.

The CTIA fought that plan, and even relocated its annual trade show from the city in protest, but when it came to the crunch (and the court) the City decided to alter its ordinance to require the generic flyers instead of handset-specific information, presumably in the hope that the CTIA wouldn't object so volubly.

A misplaced hope it seems, now that court action has been started. The CTIA agues that it's up to the FCC to decree what is safe and what isn't, and that forcing retailers to provide information with which they disagree is in breach of their rights, whether it comes as a poster, a flyer or printed on the packaging. ®

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