WASHINGTON-At a time when Wireless Technology Research L.L.C. is scraping for cash to determine whether pocket telephones pose a potential public health risk, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association is pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars annually into public affairs to convince consumers that the popular handsets are safe.

A CTIA health and safety program budget obtained by RCR suggests the five-year, $25 million WTR research initiative that began in mid-1993 may be more than $4 million short as the third fiscal year of the program closes May 31. As a result, some in industry and the scientific world claim the WTR program has been slow getting off the ground even as money has continued to flow for public relations.

Dr. George L. Carlo, chairman of WTR, insists the research program is on schedule.

The budget deficit at WTR, according to CTIA’s budget, can be traced to the first fiscal year (June 1, 1993-May 31, 1994) when WTR’s blind escrow account received $450,000. Yet, nearly $1.5 million dollars was spent the same fiscal year by CTIA on non-research activities defined by the association as “staff support for the health/safety program, funds for developing scientific spokespersons outside the research process, media tracking, public opinion polling*…*” as well as a variety of other non-research-related items.

The budget for WTR research jumped to $5 million in fiscal years 1995 and 1996, and is expected to be in the range of $5.7 million at the start of fiscal 1997, which begins June 1. Slightly more than $1 million in funding for CTIA public and industry affairs was budgeted in fiscal 1995. And midway through fiscal 1996, CTIA has spent more than $350,000 on non-research association activities.

The CTIA budget contrasts with public statements made by WTR. While CTIA’s budget shows $450,000 deposited into the WTR escrow account in fiscal 1994, WTR said in its July 1995 report on phase one of its program that almost $3 million was spent on research in 1994. Also, WTR said it planned to spend $10 million in 1995. It is unclear whether WTR was referring to the calendar year or fiscal year. WTR refused to comment.

CTIA budgeted to have deposited about $10.4 million into WTR’s blind escrow account for research on cancer and pacemaker interference by digital pocket phones by the end of fiscal year 1996, which leaves an additional $14.6 million to be paid the final two years by wireless carriers and manufacturers.

“It’s going to be $25 million at the end of the program,” said CTIA President Thomas Wheeler.

The $4 million WTR funding deficit in the first year will force CTIA to come up with about $9 million in fiscal 1998. CTIA said it does not plan to require manufacturers to fund health programs other than the WTR in the future.

“We all recognize there’s a cash flow problem and that has slowed the program,” said Arthur W. Guy, a highly-regarded bioelectromagnetic scientist at the University of Washington who with Carlo and Ian Munro, of CanTox Inc. of Ontario, Canada, comprise WTR’s top management. Guy said he hopes the problems are fixed soon. When asked whether the program will complete its work by 1998, Guy said, “Not the way the starts and stops are going.”

CTIA’s Wheeler told RCR health and safety assessment monies are spent on information dissemination connected with the WTR research “because people like you and others ask for it” and “we have a responsibility to get information out.” Asked what that information is, Wheeler said it includes telling the public that wireless phones are safe.

“Our position is there is no scientific linkage,” said Wheeler. “It is a well-known fact.”

That stance, propagated by CTIA while research is still underway, has raised concerns in the federal government and the wireless telecommunications industry about the potential to undermine research.

Dr. Elizabeth Jacobson, deputy director for science at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, chastised Wheeler three years ago about comments at a press conference that she said “seemed to display an unwarranted confidence that these products will be found to be absolutely safe.

“Our job as a public health agency is to protect health and safety, not to `reassure consumers,’*” added Jacobson. An FDA spokeswoman said the letter was accurate at that time, but declined to comment on CTIA public relations in connection with WTR research or on WTR’s funding problems.

Wheeler said CTIA relations with FDA have improved.

Public affairs also plays a key role in other health and safety projects funded by CTIA involving antenna/base stations, hearing aid interference and driver safety.

“The members of the Joint Review Committee in general should be very concerned about how their funding is used by the CTIA,” said John Madrid, president of Marketing Information Technologies Inc. of McLean, Va., and Toshiba Corp.’s representative on that panel.

The JRC, comprised of carriers and manufacturers, is the source of funding for CTIA’s health and safety program.

“Every effort should be made to prioritize the funding of brain cancer research instead of spending so much on public relations and public opinion,” added Madrid. “I believe that if the WTR had received its full $15 million by now, we wouldn’t have the current dilemma.”

However, Norman Sandler, a spokesman for Motorola Inc., said it is perfectly appropriate for CTIA to spend health and safety funds for public relations in concert with cancer and pacemaker interference research.

Terry Mitchell, executive vice president at Astronet Corp. agrees with Madrid. “We should be treating this funding-which we believe is important to the industry-as an independent funding operation,” said Mitchell. “It should not be subject to advertising, or blowing our horn.”

Greg Wortman, director of marketing for Fujitsu Transmission Systems Inc. and another JRC member, shares Sandler’s view. “Obviously, PR is useful to educate the public,” he said. “I don’t discount its value. Obviously, the research is very important. We’re not taking a position on their allocation of these resources.”

Shortly after the highly publicized lawsuit by H. David Reynard in early 1993 who claimed a portable phone caused the brain cancer that killed his wife, CTIA went to the politically well-connected Powell-Tate public relations firm for help. Jody Powell was former press secretary for President Carter and Sheila Tate was spokeswomen for former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

No court has ruled against a cellular firm in any of the cancer lawsuits so far.

As part of CTIA’s public relations focus, the association issued a manual for dealing with the news media and the public on wireless health issues, a document for which Carlo wrote the forward and which contains CTIA and WTR printed materials.


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