San Francisco’s first-in-the nation warnings about cell-phone radiation, which companies such as Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and AT&T Inc. (T) would be required to post in retail stores, are misleading or inaccurate and must be revised, a federal judge ruled.
A city ordinance passed last year would require cell phone retailers to pass out factsheets, display posters and use stickers to warn about radio frequency emissions and tell consumers to limit usage.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents wireless carriers and device makers, sought to stop enforcement of the city ordinance while its lawsuit challenging the law was pending. The law, the group said, violated the First Amendment, was alarmist, and would hurt sales.
Some warnings must be changed and others deleted or enforcement of the law will be barred, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ruled today. The factsheets should include language that says all mobile phones sold in the U.S. must meet safety standards for radio emissions set by the Federal Communications Commission, the judge said.
The warnings should also be toned down to say that while the World Health Organization has classified radio frequency emissions as a possible carcinogen, “rather than a known carcinogen or a probable carcinogen” and studies continue to assess the health effects of cell phones, Alsup said.
“Given this implicit recognition of a risk and given the ‘possible carcinogen’ classification by the World Health Organization, it cannot be said that San Francisco has acted irrationally in finding a potential public health risk and in requiring disclosures to mitigate that potential risk,” Alsup said.
He gave the city and CTIA until Nov. 4 to meet and come up with revised warnings. If the city doesn’t accept his revisions, the ordinance will be barred as a violation of free speech rights, Alsup said. Enforcement of the ordinance is delayed until Nov. 30.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera noted Alsup’s determination that the city “had authority to notify people of potential health issue with cell phones.”
“I disagree with his decision to limit the city’s message in the way he has done,” Herrera in an e-mail.
The city will ask a federal appeals court in San Francisco to uphold the portion of the ruling that allows the factsheet to go forward and “make clear that we have even broader authority to protect the health of our people,” Herrera said.
John Walls, a CTIA spokesman, said in a statement that the court “properly determined that the city cannot constitutionally require retailers to hang posters in their stores or paste stickers on cell phone display materials in order to convey the city’s selective messages about cell phone safety and cell phone use.”
CTIA is considering its options regarding further proceedings as to Alsup’s ruling that the city could force the companies to distribute fact sheets.
The case is CTIA v. San Francisco, 3:10-cv-03224, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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