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Cellphone industry tries to block San Francisco ordinance revealing potential health risks

In the ongoing tussle over cellphones and safety warnings, a trade group representing the wireless industry asked a federal judge Tuesday to block a San Francisco ordinance that would require retailers to give phone buyers a fact sheet informing them of cellphones’ potential health risks.

CITA, the wireless association, said in its court filing that the San Francisco law violates its 1st Amendment rights, “that private parties have the right not to speak contrary to their beliefs and, in particular, not to have the government force them to endorse a controversial or false message.”

CITA also argued in court papers that San Francisco does not have the right to pass ordinances that conflict with federal regulations.

The ordinance notes that “there is a debate in the scientific community about the health effects of cellphones” and that studies have connected cellphone use with “an increased risk of brain cancer and other illnesses.”

In addition to distributing fact sheets to cellphone buyers, under the new ordinance retailers also would have to prominently display a large poster warning of health risks.

The CITA filing calls the San Francisco-mandated warnings “inaccurate, misleading, controversial, unnecessarily alarmist” and says that its members disagree with them.

In a written statement Tuesday, City Atty. Dennis Herrera called the CITA filing an “attempt to take away San Francisco consumers’ right to know.”

“I’m disappointed that the wireless industry is so bent on quashing the debate about the health effects of cellphone radiation,” Herrera said. “Freedom of speech is about encouraging the exchange of ideas, not about keeping people in the dark about vital health information.

“The industry is trivializing the First Amendment by trying to use it for this purpose,” he continued. “Cities like San Francisco have a vital interest in keeping people informed about health issues, and I’m hopeful the court will realize that.” 

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 20.

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-- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco

 
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