June 22, 2018
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Cellphone warning labels not grounded in science, would mislead public

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN
By Anne Graham and Roger Katz, Special to the BDN

In the two prior legislative sessions, the Maine Legislature debated and wisely rejected legislation to require warning labels on cellphones. Several weeks ago, the Maine House of Representatives rejected similar legislation, LD 1013, by a wide margin.

In each instance, the decision to reject labels was grounded in widely accepted science. That is precisely how policy decisions should be made. They should be based on fact, not emotion or distortion.

First, a little background: Cellphones are basically radios. They communicate with towers through radio waves. As a result, cellphones emit “radio frequency” waves, also known as “RF emissions.” RF emissions are also found in microwave ovens, baby monitors, fluorescent light bulbs and Wi-Fi. At any given time, we are surrounded by RF emissions in our homes and businesses.

RF emissions from cellphones are also very low power. The only proven effect of RF energy is a “thermal effect” — that is, a heat increase in tissue exposed to the energy at certain high levels. For this reason, the FCC has established safety limits on cellphone RF emissions, which are well below the level at which a heating effect could occur.

Leading scientific and medical institutions from around the globe agree that the evidence does not support a potential link between RF emissions and cancer, including RF emissions from cellphones. Based on this research, the World Health Organization declared: “A large number of studies have been performed … To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”

The U.S. National Cancer Institute similarly declared: “A new analysis by NCI researchers has turned up no evidence to support a link between cellphone use and brain cancer in the United States.”

And from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “The scientific evidence does not show a danger to any users of cellphones from RF exposure, including children and teenagers.”

The fact is, despite the geometric explosion in cellphone use in the population over the past 25 years, the incidence of brain cancer in the population has remained unchanged.

Nonetheless, a small group of advocates continues to believe that cellphones cause cancer. This group has diligently pushed for Maine to be the first state in the nation to require a label on cellphones.

Labeling advocates conveniently overlook established science, and their advocacy at times has resorted to personal attacks, which is unfortunate.

On April 1, one advocate submitted a column to this paper that called out individual legislators by name and suggested — unfairly — that their votes against labeling were motivated by industry money. The author wrote a similar column in 2010. In both instances, the author failed to mention the declarations of groups such as the FDA, World Health Organization, or National Cancer Institute.

In our view, only at our peril do we overlook the scientific views of established independent agencies.

Because once we separate our health policy from established science, on what do we base policy? Whim? Or emotion?

With regard to cellphones, our concern is that requiring labels will mislead the public into believing cellphones may be dangerous. And then what? Will parents no longer give their children cellphones that can be used in emergency situations? Or worse, will the public lose faith in government-mandated warnings? Very simply, if the government cries wolf by requiring misleading labels, the public may eventually stop listening.

Labeling advocates argue that cellphone manuals already include information about RF emissions, so what’s wrong with adding a packaging label? But the full story is this: The manuals do explain that cellphones comply with FCC thermal standards, but with respect to health effects, the manuals typically restate what the FCC has declared — that the science has not found health effects from RF. So if Maine were to require a packaging label for RF, and RF alone, it would likely mislead the public into thinking there were health effects from RF — which is not the case.

Mainers are intelligent, and most of us make decisions based on facts.

And in this case, the facts are clear: Maine should not require RF labels on cellphones.

Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, and Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, are members of Maine’s 126th Legislature.


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