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CTIA wins battle over cancer labelling on phones

San Francisco down, but not out

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A California court has ruled that forcing phone retailers to display cancer warnings infringes their first amendment rights, unless said warnings also point out the FCC's scepticism over the threat.

The Northern District Court agreed that there was no evidence that mobiles cause cancer, and that the flyer and poster the city intended to mandate would oblige shopkeepers to express an opinion with which they disagreed. However, the court also suggested that a better-worded warning might be acceptable, as long as it was clear that the opinions presented were not those of the shopkeeper, the FCC or the vast majority of reputable scientists.

California likes putting warnings onto things, so much so that locals are often blinded to them anyway, but San Francisco's determination to label mobile phones as carcinogenic has brought it into conflict with one of the more powerful lobby groups in America, and already cost the city millions in lost business.

The original ordinance, passed back in June 2010, called for labels on every phone showing the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). That information is already on the FCC's site, and subject to pretty-conservative maximums, and the industry argued that giving undue prominence to irrelevant information would just confuse people.

The CTIA got so upset that it pulled its annual trade show from San Francisco in protest. The show had delivered over $80m to the city over the preceding years (though, to be fair, that's the CTIA's estimate).

The city backed down on product labelling, and instead started pushing out the flyer-and-poster plan which has now been knocked back. San Francisco now has until the end of the month to come back with a revised flyer making it clear that it represents the tin-foil-hat brigade rather than the commonly-accepted (and scientifically justified) view that mobile telephony is harmless unless you throw it really hard, though the CTIA is clear that it will fight on until California shopkeepers have the right to say absolutely nothing on the subject. ®

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