AUGUSTA, Maine — House lawmakers rejected a bill Thursday that landed Maine in the national spotlight on the heated debate about whether cell phones could cause brain cancer in users.
As originally introduced, the legislation would have required all new cell phones sold in Maine to carry a warning label suggesting a link between the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the phones and brain cancer, especially among children and pregnant women.
The bill, LD 1706, was substantially weakened in committee to remove the label requirement after the cell phone industry and Maine health officials testified in strong opposition.
Instead, supporters of the initiative watered down the bill to encourage the wireless industry to launch educational campaigns in Maine about potential health risks and ways for cell phone users to reduce exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
On Thursday, lawmakers in the House voted to kill the bill altogether after lengthy debate. A motion to pass the rewritten bill failed by a 62-82 vote.
“At some point, there may be enough evidence to do something like this, but at this point we would be crying wolf,” said Rep. Leslie Fossel, R-Alna.
During debate, supporters acknowledged that more study is needed to prove or disprove a link between cell phones and brain cancer but said the same was true several decades ago about the dangers of cigarette smoke.
The Federal Communications Commission already requires manufacturers to include a disclaimer recommending that users hold the cell phone away from the head or use a hands-free headset.
Supporters argued those disclaimers suggest there are legitimate concerns about health risks tied to cell phone use, but few people see them because they are often buried in the back of the phone manual.
“How on earth do you think [the disclaimers] got there?” asked Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland. “Do you think they are doing it because they want to be nice to you guys?”
The lead sponsor of the bill, titled “An Act To Create the Children’s Wireless Protection Act,” said the rewritten version merely attempts to make the information more accessible.
“People don’t have to do anything. It doesn’t ask you to get rid of your cell phone,” said Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford. “This really is about allowing people to have information that they may use for themselves.”
But the bill’s opponents put heavy weight on the testimony of Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who said there were no U.S. medical studies connecting cell phone use and brain cancer.
“Where does this all end?” asked Rep. Patricia Jones, D-Mount Vernon, who spent 25 years working in the state’s public health services. “Do we react to every little scare that comes to us?”
Rep. Sarah Lewin, R-Eliot, suggested that parents concerned about their children’s exposure to radiation from phones should “grow up, get a grip and do something about children’s overuse of cell phones.”
“I personally don’t understand why children are running around 24 hours a day with a telephone,” said Lewin who voted along with the majority of her colleagues on the Health and Human Services Committee to reject the bill.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where its chances of passage are considered unlikely.