New health campaign targets loud earphones

By Jennifer Peltz
Associated Press

NEW YORK — The city wants young New Yorkers to hear its latest public-health warning loud and clear: Cranked-up headphones can be hazardous to your hearing.

So much so that the city is planning a $250,000 social media and marketing campaign to warn teens that they risk hearing loss from listening to personal music players at high volume, health officials said Wednesday.

It’s the latest in a slate of efforts by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to urge New Yorkers to eschew unhealthy habits, from smoking to drinking large amounts of sugary soda.

The prodding has sometimes included graphic ads, such as an online video of a man pouring himself a soda that turns into a glass of glop made to look like fat and an ad featuring a close-up of a smoker’s gangrenous toes.

It’s not yet clear how the city will deliver its hearing-loss messages, which will aim “to better inform and educate New Yorkers about ways to protect hearing from exposure to loud sounds,” particularly long and loud listening sessions on music devices with earphones, the city Health Department said in a statement.

Officials plan to use focus groups and interviews with teens and young adults to decide how to frame the campaign, according to a description from the city Health Department’s fundraising arm, called the Fund for Public Health.

It has raised $70,000 so far, from a donor who asked to remain anonymous, said the fund’s executive director, Sara Gardner.

Noise-induced hearing loss has been a concern for years amid the cacophony of modern life, with its booming music, traffic sirens, jackhammers and other clatter.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says close proximity or prolonged exposure to sound above 85 decibels can cause hearing damage, and many things are louder, including power mowers, motorcycles and, sometimes, music.

A personal music player hits about 105 decibels at maximum volume, according to the federal government-run institute.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says excessive noise has caused permanent hearing damage in 1 out of 8 children and teens and about 1 in 6 adults under age 70.

Problems can include hearing loss — especially trouble hearing high frequencies or following conversations in noisy situations — and tinnitus, an internal ringing or even the sound of whooshing or buzzing in the ears.

The NIH and other health groups have launched public-education campaigns about protecting hearing.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association sounded a note about safe headphone listening at this year’s International CES, the massive consumer electronics-fest that is the biggest trade show in the Americas.

The organizer, the Consumer Electronics Association, didn’t immediately respond to phone and email inquiries Wednesday about New York City’s new initiative, first reported by the New York Post.

But the association supports the audiology group’s similar effort. The association’s president, Gary Shapiro, has noted that it promotes headphones that minimize outside sounds and allow parents set the maximum volume for the children.

During Bloomberg’s 11 years in office, his administration has cracked down on smoking, banned trans fats from restaurant meals, forced chain eateries to post calorie counts on menus and limited the size of some sugary drinks.