GUEST COLUMN

Cellphone dangers real, shouldn’t be ignored

Posted June 06, 2011, at 8:02 p.m.

Ironically, while national news was being focused on the connection between cellphones and

brain tumors last week, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee of the state Legislature

was reviewing language for the minority position (the majority thinks it’s not necessary) on

putting safety notices on cellphones, their packaging or in notices in retail outlets. I brought this

legislation, the first in the nation, to Maine last year, and have brought it back this year because

there is such urgency about this problem, with virtually everyone using cellphones pressed

against their heads.

The committee was struggling with whether they could use words such as “warning” and “safety,”

since the wireless industry insisted at the public hearing that what they have in their manuals

(keep away from head and body) are not warnings, not advisories, and not about safety. Rep.

Jon Hinck of Portland couldn’t see it that way, and questioned the industry lobbyists as to

their meaning.

Several of the committee members weren’t there to hear testimony by CTIA, the industry association, which refused to answer Rep. Jon Hinck’s question, “Do you mean to have the public see these warnings?” (that are buried deep in the manuals in small print.) The lobbyist said he’d consult with the industry and get back to them, but never got the answers and never returned to the committee.

The CTIA went on to argue that it was unconstitutional to require them to put warning labels on their products, which Hinck also found strange. He asked them if they thought warning labels on cigarettes were unconstitutional. That answer never came, either.

One warning I saw in the Blackberry Torch: “Use hands free operation if it is available and keep

the BlackBerry device at least .98 inches from your body (including the abdomen of pregnant

women and the lower abdomen of teenagers) …” That may be responding to studies showing

sperm damage and reproductive issues.

Maine brought the first legislation in the world last year, to put warning labels on cellphones, but

the tyranny of the industry in Augusta (and elsewhere) is stronger all the time. They typically

dissemble, confuse and threaten or suggest lawsuits if any of this type of legislation passes.

A legal opinion on the issues they raise — typically, that it is unconstitutional to require safety

warning labels or advisories — came out on May 19, however, regarding similar warning labels in

San Francisco. It describes how empty, even ridiculous, those claims are and cites many cases

that make that point. The Maine Attorney General’s office has also found the cellphone warning

legislation “very defensible,” and having the stronger case — that our job is to protect the public

health. I shared that with the committee, but it has not formally addressed these legal opinions.

We as legislators need to think through our orientation. Is the top priority the well-being of the

people of Maine or that of this multitrillion dollar industry? The concerns are real and backed up

by hundreds of scientific studies, even while other studies do not show harm. The question is

whether we err on the side of caution, or on the side of complacency and even recklessness.

We don’t need to make scientific analyses ourselves, we just need to let consumers know that

concerns exist, and that all user manuals show practices to help reduce radiation exposure.

Some scientists have called the mass, global distribution of cellphones the largest involuntary

human scientific experiment in the history of the world. We can’t let lobbyists confuse us to

the point of not letting Mainers know how to best use cellphones without risking possible

genetic, cognitive, reproductive or brain tumor problems, especially for children, who are most

vulnerable. We need more conspicuous advisories than those presently hidden deep in user

manuals, so consumers can take simple precautions if they wish. In this way, we can hope to

avoid a potential health crisis that, as Sanjay Gupta recently pointed out on CNN, could rival

that of tobacco, asbestos, and lead in gasoline.

Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, represents District 142 in the Maine House of Representatives.

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