Berkeley City Council Approves Health Warnings for Cell Phones

The City of Berkeley is doubling down on its recent cautionary craze.

On Monday night, the city council voted unanimously to require cell phone retailers within city limits to issue health warnings with the purchase of a cell phone. The ordinance, aimed at cautioning the public about the possible radiation risks from cell phone use, is the first of its kind in the United States.

“If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF [radio frequency] radiation,” the proposed language reads. “This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.”

The law is expected to pass a second reading and would then take effect in July. Cell phone industry officials, however, have already signaled their willingness to engage in a legal challenge. In a letter to council members on Tuesday, Gerard Keegan of the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA) called the language “forced” and “misleading,” saying it erroneously implies that cell phone users are in danger. The CTIA has already argued that the law violates the First Amendment by compelling retailers to engage in speech they disagree with.

Similar attempts to get radiation warnings on cell phones have failed elsewhere. In 2010, San Francisco approved regulations requiring cell phone retailers to display the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), or the amount of radio frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body. That ordinance was shelved after CTIA filed a lawsuit.

This is just the most recent move by Berkeley officials to require cautionary language on popular products. Last year, the Berkeley City Council also voted to slap climate change warning labels on city gas pumps.

Read more about Tuesday’s vote here.