Berkeley City Council is considering a plan to place health warning stickers on cell phones, which might cause health issues ranging from headaches to rapid heartbeat and brain tumors.
The proposition, an ongoing effort of six years, is being pushed for by council members Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington. The city is working with Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard University, to draft the proposal using language that would avoid potential lawsuits.
Six years ago, Berkeley proposed the effort for health warning stickers together with San Francisco. When San Francisco went forward with its proposal, CTIA — The Wireless Association, a trade group representing the wireless communications industry, sued the city for allegedly using “controversial” language in its proposition.
“We’re learning from what San Francisco did so we can do something more effective and reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit,” Worthington said.
The goal is to put the language found in cell phone user manuals in the form of a sticker, where it would be more readily visible to customers, according to Worthington.
“People need to know these things so they can make wise decisions,” Anderson said.
According to Joel Moskowitz, director for the Center for Family and Community Health at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, more than a dozen nations — including Belgium, France, the United Kingdom and Israel — have issued precautionary health warnings about the use of cell phones.
“The U.S. has been negligent in dealing with this issue,” Moskowitz said. “It’s long overdue.”
Limiting the exposure of children, teens and pregnant women to cell phones is imperative, as youths have developing brains and thinner skulls, and therefore, the risk of brain cancer is likely to be much greater after long-term cell phone use, according to Moskowitz.
The CTIA argued in the past that implementing health warning stickers would violate the First Amendment. In a recent letter to the city of Berkeley, CTIA claimed the stickers would contradict the authority of federal regulatory agencies that have deemed the devices safe for consumer use.
“We’ve been engaging in denial as a society for a long time. Other countries, particularly in the European Union, have been alerting the citizens and the public,” Moskowitz said, adding that the wireless industry’s response toward cell phone use mimics the tobacco industry’s response to tobacco use in the 1950s.
With the discussion of health warning stickers moved off the council’s July 8 agenda in favor of having Lessig review the proposition’s language and make suggestions, Worthington said he plans for the City Council to vote on the proposition for health warning stickers Sept. 9.