The city's Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 Tuesday to give preliminary approval to the proposal. The board is expected to give final approval next week, and Mayor Gavin Newsom, an early proponent, is expected to sign the proposal into law.
Potential health risks from cell phone radiation has been debated for years. Despite numerous studies, there's no clear scientific evidence that mobile phones increase risks for cancer or any other illness. Last month, for example, a 10-year study released by the World Health Organization failed to turn up any conclusive evidence.
The San Francisco proposal would require retailers to post the "specific absorption rate" next to mobile phones. The Federal Communications Commission require cell phone makers to register the SAR, which is a measurement of the amount of radiation absorbed by the human body.
In addition, retailers would be required to post information on where consumers can get educational materials on cell phone radiation. If signed the proposal is signed by Newsom, it would take effect beginning in February 2011. Violators would face fines up to $300.
Proponents say the proposal would little more than provide consumers with additional information in making a decision on which mobile phone to buy. "While research continues, this is a simple, inexpensive, common-sense idea that will ensure that San Franciscans have the information they need to choose the right phone for themselves and their families," Renee Sharp, director of the California office of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. The EWG is a national nonprofit research and advocacy group.
However, opponents of the proposal, including many San Francisco businesses, argue that the notices would be misleading, because consumers would assume that less radiation means lower health risk. In fact, all cell phones sold in the U.S. meet federal requirements, and there's no clear evidence that radiation under those levels presents a health risk.
A similar proposal died in the California Legislature this year, following intense lobbying by the mobile phone industry. Lawmakers in Maine killed a similar bill this year, even after the proposal had been watered down in an attempt to attract industry support.