Why San Francisco's new cellphone-radiation law is pointless

This week, the city of San Francisco passed a law requiring cellphone retailers to display (in at least 11-point font!) the amount of radiation that each phone on their shelves emits. Is the city ahead of the curve, or just filled with crazy hippies?

The jury's still out on whether cellphones cause cancer (some studies show no link between the two, but there's plenty of research out there to make you think seriously about taking to the cellphone tower-free wilderness). While we're waiting for a final verdict (and we could be waiting years, since this sort of causal link is extremely difficult to prove or disprove definitively), some consumers try to take precautions, usually by using headsets, not by trying to purchase the "safest" phone out there. Will this new law change that? And if it did, would that be a good thing?

Even if if cellphones do increase your risk for cancer, it doesn't follow that owning a phone that emits less radiation is going to leave your brain healthier in the long run. San Francisco's new law could give some phone buyers a false sense of security — they'll think their phone is safe, when in reality it may be just a bit safer than the competition. Maybe they'll spend more time on the phone, negating the positive effects of a "lower radiation" phone. Or maybe we'll learn that there's no such thing as a "safe" cellphone. We may eventually look at these radiation distinctions in the same way we look at the difference between filtered and unfiltered cigarettes — the choice of what kind of cigarette you smoke is not going to save your lungs.

These are important issues to think about, and in some ways it's nice to see that San Francisco cares. But instead of passing a law that could lull consumers into a false sense of security, the lawmakers' time might have been better spent encouraging headset use, or discouraging adults from giving cellphones to young children.