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Meglena Kuneva

European Consumer Commissioner

Keynote Speech

Personal Music Players Stakeholders' Conference
Brussels, 27 January 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you today to this conference on personal music players organised by my services, the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, together with colleagues from the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry.

The presence of so many different stakeholders in this room is very important as, only together, can we find sensible and practical solutions to the issues I would like to outline to you.

The decision to organise this Conference follows the Opinion of the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks on "Potential health risks of exposure to noise from personal music players and mobile phones including a music playing function", which was published last October.

The European Commission had asked the independent scientific committee to examine this issue, given the widespread use of personal music players and the surge in the number of young people exposed to sound levels that actually exceed what is allowed in the workplace.

Up to 250 million portable audio devices were sold in the EU in the last four years alone and up to 100 million people may have been using them on a daily basis.

As part of their research, scientists analysed over 300 scientific publications.

They confirmed that there is cause for concern since 5-10% of personal music player listeners risk permanent hearing loss.

This risk is real if they listen to music for more than one hour a day, each week, at high volume settings, for a period of 5 years or more.

I am concerned that up to 10 million people in the EU, who are frequent users of personal music players at high volumes, may be unknowingly damaging their hearing irrevocably.

Many of these people are children and adolescents who do not yet intuitively understand the danger and this is why their parents shall also be made aware.

In light of the scientific advice, we need to act quickly and examine the rules in place to make sure that they keep pace with new technology and ensure that consumers benefit from the highest possible safety standards.

We must also make sure that consumers are informed of the health risks from exposure to noise from personal music players and mobile phones with a music playing function.

The aim of this conference is therefore to bring together EU Member States, Members of the European Parliament, scientists, industry, consumer organisations, standard makers, testing laboratories and other stakeholders, to examine what measures could be taken to reduce the risk from noise from personal music players and, hence, to better protect our consumers.

Today we need to ensure that we join forces in developing a solution that does not stifle innovation and consumer choice and which, at the same time, guarantees that consumers are protected from damage to their hearing and that the products they buy and use on a day-to-day basis are safe.

I would like to invite you to talk today to one another and share ideas and experiences.

I hope that, by the end of this conference, you will have learned from each other's expertise and developed a common understanding on the way forward.

Safety of products is in the shared interest of consumers, companies, policy-makers and enforcement authorities.

Consumers and reputable companies alike gain from effective rules and their strict application.

Let me now set out the questions that we hope to have answered today.

First, is there a need for further regulation or revision of existing safety standards to better protect our consumers?

European safety standards already exist, restricting the noise level of personal music players to 100 decibels.

However, the current standards have some caveats. They cover only some music players and there is increasing concern over hearing damage from excessive exposure to such sources.

According to a recent survey in the UK, over half the number of 16-24 year olds questioned said they listen to their personal music players for at least an hour a day.

Out of all respondents, almost 20% said they listen to them more than 21 hours a week.

Hearing damage can be prevented to a large extent by reducing the sound levels and duration.

The Scientific Committee opinion highlights that, if consumers use their personal music players for only one hour per day each week at more than 89 decibels, they would exceed the current limits in place for noise allowed in the workplace.

So, what I would like to know is whether the right solution is to revise the standards and introduce a new sound level which complies with the scientific opinion?

Or should we introduce a new standard which better covers all personal music players?

If so, how do we make sure that the different exposure scenarios and the effects of different kinds of headphones are taken into account when designing a safe product?

Also, is the standardisation process the most effective way forward or should we explore a Decision under the General Product Safety Directive?

Second, what are the technical solutions that industry could apply to avoid hearing damage?

For example, how can we link decibels to volume control features and make sure that exposure patterns are factored in?

What about safety information? Are we focusing only on labelling and instructions for use? How about also making good use of the display and other properties of the product?

It will be very interesting to hear the views of our industry experts on the different technical solutions available.

While rapid advances in technology have provided significant benefits to consumers in terms of choice and quality, they also allow for more imaginative and innovative solutions to minimise potential safety risks.

Third, what are the precautions that users can, and should, take?

As the risks of hearing damage depends on sound levels and exposure time, personal music player users could already take certain, very practical, precautions.

For example, they could check their device to see if a maximum volume can be set to keep it lower and take care to not use the personal music player for prolonged periods.

However, in order to take precautions, users must be aware of the health risks and of the means to tackle these.

Here, warnings and information campaigns have a crucial role to play, but they should not be used as an alternative to putting only safe music players in the hands of consumers.

Any awareness campaign informing people on how to enjoy music safely should also be tailored to effectively reach adolescents, including the use of media and internet to convey the message.

For example, for young people, future risks may seem unimportant and distant, something that will never touch them personally, and these considerations must be taken into account when planning any information campaign.

Talking about effective and media driven awareness raising activities, it will be very interesting to hear today about the 'Don't Lose the Music' campaign which was carried out in the UK to protect youngsters from hearing damage caused by over-exposure to loud music.

When developing a safe solution, let's keep in mind consumer behaviour. Some of you may have attended the successful 'Behavioural Economics Conference' organised by the European Commission in November last year, which drew interesting conclusions about consumer behaviour.

For example, there is evidence of people's limited economic rationality, such as, the bias for defaults. We should therefore make sure that the default option is the one that guarantees safety.

My last question is: What do we need to do next to ensure the safety of personal music players?

What is required from us and what should we do to achieve it?

Eyes are on us, on the results we achieve, how we deliver them and how we overcome our different points of views for the benefit of the European consumers.


To conclude, what I would like to accomplish here today is:

  • 1. A multi-stakeholder discussion on the findings of the Scientific Committee;
  • 2. An open debate on whether there is a need for further regulation and on the solutions that could be applied to better protect consumers; and
  • 3. A common understanding on the way forward. I would like the Conference to lead to a concrete action plan ensuring the safe listening of music.

Thank you for your attention.

I look forward to a stimulating debate.

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