Maine lawmakers reject warning for cellphones

By Glenn Adams
Associated Press / March 10, 2010

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AUGUSTA, Maine - A legislative committee rejected a proposal yesterday that would require health warnings on cellphones 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 Representative 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 are inconclusive. “I’m so concerned about raising fear in people,’’ said one member, Representative Patricia Jones, Democrat of Mount Vernon.

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

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

Dora Anne Mills, Maine CDC director, told the committee before its vote that federal health standards for cellphones and other electronic devices are enforced by the federal government. Mills said that while there has been an explosion in cellphone use during the last two decades, there has been no corresponding increase in cancers that some link to the devices.

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

An industry group, TechAmerica, said it was encouraged 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 yesterday, Governor 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 opposed the bill, he was not threatening a veto, Farmer said.

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