Do Cell Phones Need Radiation Warning Labels?

Despite being home to one of the world’s most prestigious research universities, Berkeley, California has just shown a shocking disregard for science.

Under a new law passed by the city, cell phones must come with labels warning consumers of the possible risk of radiation exposure if their cell phones are kept in their pants, shirt pockets, or bras while the devices are connected to a wireless network. The law will take effect despite no scientific evidence that cell phone radiation causes health problems. 

The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health sums up the research:

Although there have been some concerns that radiofrequency energy from cell phones held closely to the head may affect the brain and other tissues, to date there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.

It is generally accepted that damage to DNA is necessary for cancer to develop. However, radiofrequency energy, unlike ionizing radiation, does not cause DNA damage in cells, and it has not been found to cause cancer in animals or to enhance the cancer-causing effects of known chemical carcinogens in animals.

Because cell phones are so ubiquitous, it makes sense to study the possible impact of radiation. But consumers should understand that there’s already been several major cohort studies examining cancer incidence among cell phone users that failed to find any link between cell phone use and brain tumors or cancer.

Berkeley argues that consumers have a “right to know” about safety risks, but is warning consumers about virtually non-existent risks actually helpful or necessary? The state of California already requires warning labels on everything from coffee to flip flops under its chemical warning label, Proposition 65, but research shows those warning labels haven’t actually made Californians any healthier despite millions of dollars in costs to businesses.

To truly be useful to consumers, warning labels on products should be reserved for items that actually pose a significant hazard. Otherwise, consumers become immune to the warnings and they’re essentially meaningless.