Panel rejects proposal to require cancer warnings on cell phones

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AUGUSTA (AP) — A legislative committee rejected a proposal Tuesday that would require health warnings on cellular phones in Maine, meaning the proposal is all but doomed for this year.

 None of the 13 voting members of the Health and Human Services Committee supported Sanford Democratic Rep. Andrea Boland’s proposal, which would require manufacturers to put labels on phones and packaging warning of the potential for brain cancer associated with electromagnetic radiation. The warnings would recommend that users, especially children and pregnant women, keep the devices away from their head and body.

 But committee members were cool to the idea of warnings, reasoning that studies so far are inconclusive.

 “I’m so concerned about raising fear in people,” said one member, Rep. Patricia Jones, D-Mount Vernon.

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 However, eight committee members said that while they did not support cell phone warnings, they want the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site to include a reference to studies on cell phone use that have been done by several federal health and regulatory agencies.

 Five other committee members called for an educational effort on cell phone use, to be conducted by the industry, in Maine.

 Maine CDC Director Dora Anne Mills told the committee before its vote that federal health standards for cell phones and other electronic devices are enforced by the federal government. Mills said that while there’s been an “explosion” in cell phone use during the last two decades, there’s been no corresponding increase in cancers caused by the devices.

 “If you were going to put a warning on cell phones, it should say ‘Do not use while driving,'” Mills told the committee.

 An industry group, TechAmerica, said it was “encouraged” seeing that the committee got the message that scientific evidence does not indicate a public health risk caused by mobile phones.

 “The labels called for in the original bill would have been misleading by asserting an unsubstantiated health risk and by implying that the federal government’s safety limits are insufficient,” TechAmerica said in a statement.

 Earlier Tuesday, Gov. John Baldacci’s administration restated its opposition to the warning proposal.

 “As it stands the governor doesn’t support the bill, and he’s based that decision largely on the research by Dr. Dora Anne Mills,” said Baldacci spokesman David Farmer.

 “At this time, he is reluctant to put new regulations or new requirements on businesses because (of) the recession and national economy, and particularly when the science at best is still unclear” and health risks are undocumented, Farmer said. While Baldacci opposes the bill, he is not threatening a veto, Farmer said.

 During a hearing last week, researchers told the Health and Human Services Committee that studies in Europe show electromagnetic radiation from cell phones poses risks of brain cancer.

Click here to listen to an interview with Gov. Baldacci’s spokesman David Farmer about cell phone warnings.

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