The city of San Francisco in California has voted in favour of an ordinance that requires shops to display information about the levels of radiation emitted by the mobile phones they sell. All mobile phone retailers within San Francisco will need to display the "specific absorption rate" (SAR) - a measurement of how much electromagnetic radiation is absorbed by body tissue whilst using a mobile phone - or else pay a $300 fine.
The US mobile phone industry isn't happy. It says the law will merely scare consumers away from buying phones. "Rather than inform, the ordinance will potentially mislead consumers with point-of-sale requirements suggesting that some phones are 'safer' than others, based on radio frequency emissions," said John Walls, vice president of public affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). "In fact, all phones sold legally in the US must comply with the Federal Communication Commission's safety standards for emissions."
But San Francisco legislator Sophie Maxwell said the law is merely intended to help consumers make "informed choices". The BBC reports that a similar right-to-know measure at state level failed recently following heavy lobbying by CTIA.
Law on the emission of radiation from mobile phones
In the US and Australia, mobile phone manufacturers must ensure their phones are at or below a SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram in 1 gramme of body tissue. The European Union SAR limit is currently far less stringent: 2 watts per kilogram in 10 grammes of body tissue.
Robin Fry, a partner at law firm Beachcroft LLP, told V3.co.uk that the EU could soon follow San Francisco's lead in requiring shops to display SAR levels. "Mobile manufacturers already publish SAR figures in user manuals. It is just a small step to display this more prominently on packaging and in point-of-sale material," he said.
"But what we are likely to see first is a breakaway by one manufacturer, such as Samsung, voluntarily promoting the benefits of its low-SAR models. And once they do, everyone else will have to follow."
The New York Times quotes an international study into the use of mobile phones by the International Journal of Epidemiology, which found "no increased risk" for the two most common types of brain tumours. In some cases, however, there was a small increase in a type of cancer that attacks the cells that surround nerve cells, though the paper states that researchers found that finding "inconclusive".
Meanwhile, the Ecologist reports that the UK Health Protection Agency has no plans to recommend a change in current UK legislation on mobile phones. "As long as they are within the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines then there is no hard evidence that they affect personal health," said a spokesman.