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San Francisco passes cell phone emission law

SAN FRANCISCO - In this city known for producing laws both pathbreaking and contentious, legislators have forcefully stepped into another debate - this time over the potential danger of cell phone use.

With the Board of Supervisors' 10-1 vote in favor of an ordinance Mayor Gavin Newsom, an iPhone user, has indicated he will sign, San Francisco has waded into the as-yet unresolved debate over the relationship between long-term use of cell phones and health problems such as brain tumors.

It would be the country's first law requiring cell phone retailers to disclose the phones' specific absorption rate, or SAR, to customers.

SAR measures the maximum amount of radiation absorbed by a person using a handset. The Federal Communications Commission limits SAR to an average of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body tissue, but information about radiation levels is not usually readily available when people purchase phones at stores. Still, after a number of scientific inquiries, no conclusions have been reached. A major UN study released last month found no clear link between cell phones and the risk of developing brain cancer.

Industry representatives see that as a reason to oppose a law like this. They would not speculate on the impact to their business, but many of the nation's most popular cell phones have relatively high SAR levels. That is because many of those popular phones are smart phones, which have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth receivers, as well as basic cellular capability, that add to their total SAR rating, according to Walls.

Under the law, larger chains will have to place SAR notices starting in February, while other stores will have until 2012.

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