Warning label on cell phones is not justified

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If Maine becomes the first state in the U.S. to require cancer warning stickers on cell phones, it will be a victory for speculation over science and hysteria over rationality.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a bill sponsored by Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, mandating just such labeling.

It is, of course, possible to drum up an expert to support nearly any supposition, and the experts testifying Tuesday were nothing if not dramatic.

Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University of Albany, compared cell phones to cigarettes. “We can do nothing and wait for the body count,” he told legislators. He predicted an “epidemic of brain cancer.”

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Boland also produced several purported cell-phone victims, including Alan Marks, of the San Francisco Bay area, who said using a cell phone is like playing Russian roulette, probably because both a handgun and a cell phone can be held to the head.

Yet, we ask, where is even the slightest statistical evidence?

Those with an interest in the subject can find study after study recounted on the Web. And all large, peer-reviewed studies to date have come to the same conclusion — no detected link between cell phones and brain tumors.

Last December, a study conducted in four Scandinavian countries and reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found no link.

That is consistent with a large U.S. study that traced cell-phone users’ health from 1987 to 2005 that found no connection.

Which echos a study of 420,000 cell-phone users in Denmark in 2006 which covered a 21-year period.

The likely reason? Like TVs, computers and many electronic devices, cell phones operate in the non-ionizing range of the electromagnetic scale. That means their signal is unlike the ionizing radiation found in tanning booths and medical X-rays.

Non-ionizing signals have not been found to break cells apart and cause illness.

What’s more, newer digital phones operate at 0.6 watts, less than half the 1.3 watts used by older analog phones.

But there is a bigger picture the Legislature should consider. There are rumors of risks, or extremely low risks, associated with countless products.

Should Maine begin requiring cancer warning labels on water bottles? Hair spray? Cosmetics? Processed meats? Cleaning products? Alcoholic beverages?

The list is long and subject to much debate.

Should each legislature in the land make separate decisions on these issues? Or, like we’ve done with cigarettes, should we wait until there is an actual scientific consensus and then produce one common warning?

At the very least, the Legislature — and the public — should give more weight to the advice of Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, than roving out-of-state experts.

Mills said Tuesday that her review of existing research does not support a warning-label requirement.

The Legislature should accept Dr. Mills’ advice, kill this bill and move on.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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