If you thought that the debate about radiation from your cell phone was pretty much over, at least until some solid evidence was provided concerning any dangers, you were completely wrong. There appear to be those who will stir up things simply to have something to do, and also there are places in the nation that will listen, to any Chicken Little who gives various tales about the current state of the sky.

Danger..Danger.. Wil Robinson! There are nutballs on the loose.

The city of San Francisco, home of the Giants (baseball!) and Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat!), has adopted an attitude of consumer protection above and beyond the level of the federal government – or so it would seem.


Yes, seriously. The city has been busy in recent weeks, pushing for this in the name of “the consumer’s right to know.” The law will require visible warnings to be posted right next to phones in stores so that shoppers can read — in mandated 11-point or higher type — each unit’s specific absorption rate.

The specific absorption rate, or SAR (a soon-to-be buzzword) [it’s only one letter away from SARS -Ed], measures the amount of radiation absorbed into the user’s body. Now, the funny thing about the SAR of a mobile phone is that the FCC already mandates that 1.6 W/kg is the maximum rating a phone can have and still be sold in the United States; in Europe, it’s 2 W/kg. The sort of people that are the most likely to make a scene about their phone’s SAR won’t bother to look that up, though. You know the type, … they sneer at you if you don’t drive a hybrid, and they snoop through their neighbors’ recycling bins at night to be sure they’re following all the rules.

As you may have guessed, the wireless carriers and phone manufacturers aren’t too happy about this, since it has a high likelihood of spreading to other cities. This, however, isn’t like the old Big Tobacco vs. The People unpleasantness of the past. Even the National Cancer Institute says that cell phone radiation poses no threat to health. This is from their own website:

Research suggests that the amount of RF energy produced by cell phones is too low to cause significant tissue heating or an increase in body temperature
Research studies have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancer.

In case you’re curious or in need of some perspective, the iPhone 3GS has a SAR of 0.79 W/kg, while the Nexus One rates at 0.37 W/kg (both are head-level measurements, FCC rating system).

All this law will actually do is cause consumers to start thinking that some phones are healthier than others, and that will, in turn, spur a whole slew of new marketing campaigns that try to sell phones to people on the merit of their SAR. What’s really odd about this whole thing is that the city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, is so attached to his own iPhone that it may actually be grafted to his hand. The guy’s got 1.3 million followers on Twitter! Does he really want to start making people who live in and around a tech-absorbed city fear their cell phones?

With so many other things to fear today, the small amount of radiation from cell phones would seem to be far down on any sane person’s list of things to be eminently concerned about. Right from the top of my head, I would say at least in the second hundred as the list goes in descending order.

So will this catch on? I am positive that at least one other city will adopt a similar stance, if only because there are those who are of influence that have nothing better to do than worry about such things.

For me, I will continue to use my cell phone, avoid the more significant problems if possible, and listen to the tune in my head, which after reading this story, is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.


Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.

Max Planck

Also, Max knew a thing or two about radiation…

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