Berkeley’s cell phone ordinance, which requires retailers to warn consumers about the potential risk of radiation with cell phones, is the first measure of its kind to be passed. In May, the City Council unanimously passed the ordinance, titled Right to Know. The law goes into effect next month and warns consumers that “you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure” to radiofrequency radiation by placing a cell phone into a bra or in a pants pocket. The warning also states that “The potential risk is greater for children” according to the New York Times.
Berkeley’s ordinance brings up questions about whether or not other cities will adopt a similar law. The city is known for its progressive actions, and has passed legislation that are sometimes seen as radical but are later implemented in other places, including health benefits for domestic partners, smoking bans, Styrofoam bans and creating sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. “If you can get it passed in Berkeley, you have a beginning,” said Berkeley Council member Susan Wengraf, according to NYT. “If you can’t, forget it, or come back three years later.”
“We want to raise awareness,” said Ellie Marks, founder of California Brain Tumor Association. Ms. Marks’ husband developed brain cancer at age 56, and she believes that frequent cell phone use played a role. She is not a Berkeley resident but brought her case there because “Berkeley has a reputation for taking progressive action.”
The cell phone industry is fighting Berkeley’s ordinance and claiming that it is a violation of First Amendment rights. However, Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig and Yale Law School professor Robert Post have agreed to defend Berkeley against this argument pro bono. “The First Amendment is being contorted to all sorts of wrong ends,” said Lessig, according to NYT. “We’re not intending to challenge the science of cellphones,” Lessig said. “We’re just making people aware of existing regulations.”
There has been debate surrounding the link between cell phone use and cancer for many years. While research has not found a definitive link, a number of experts believe it is better to be on the safe side. “Even if the science isn’t firm, if there’s a risk, we should proceed with caution,” said Max Anderson, a Berkeley City Council members who helped write the ordinance. In response to the lack of a definitive link, proponents of the ordinance point out that cancer takes years to develop and that the fine print of cell phone manuals contains a warning similar to the ordinance.