The city of no smoking could also become the city of no noise.
Minneapolis bars and night clubs featuring live music could be required to supply free earplugs to patrons and employees, but only if the bars and nightclubs themselves have access to a free supply of the plugs.
“This is not necessarily a sexy issue,” said Council Member Jacob Frey, who introduced the measure that was approved by a council committee Tuesday. “It’s maybe not even politically expedient, but this is very good governance.”
Initially, the free earplugs would be supplied to 185 bars and nightclubs by 3M, which would donate 2,000 pairs and a dispenser to the establishments. The Miracle-Ear Hearing Foundation and LGGK (Locally Grown, Globally Known) have agreed to work with 3M to continue the donation of earplugs.
“The ordinance will not be imposed or enforced if they [the bars and nightclubs] do not have a supply of free earplugs,” said Grant Wilson, manager of business licenses for Minneapolis.
The dangers of noise
“Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable,” said Jenni Hargraves of the Miracle-Ear Hearing Foundation during a public hearing. She estimates that 26 million Americans have a hearing loss caused by noise.
“People don’t realize the dangers of noise, and we see this as a great opportunity to educate them,” said Jason Jones from 3M. “You’d never let people go into a nightclub if they temporarily lost their eye sight [as a result], but people go into nightclubs and temporarily lose their hearing all of the time.”
The single-use earplugs will block the first 16 decibels of sound so that those wearing them will still be able to hear the music.
“What hearing loss really means is isolation, withdrawal and depression,” said Ann Napp who was a licensed audiologist for 24 years before her retirement. “It really is a public health issue.”
“When I fixed tanks during Desert Storm I temporarily lost my hearing,” said Elliott Miller, who added that tractor pulls at the Metrodome left him with ringing in his ears. He sees the free earplugs as a something that will save people money in the years ahead. “If a person has to have hearing aids later in life, we’re looking at $6,000 of $8,000. This is a no-brainer.”
Not everyone is on board
Despite all of the favorable testimony, not everyone in the room was happy. The unhappy people were the club owners who sell earplugs.
“The management and owners who could be affected by this ordinance have been told there would be no negative financial impact on businesses. This is not correct,” said Carol Lynn Miller, director of the Seville Club in Minneapolis.
Miller said that First Avenue, for example, takes in $4,000 a year for the sale of earplugs, which contributes $551 in sales tax revenue.
“Any loss to our revenue stream is unacceptable,” said Miller who noted that it is difficult for bars and nightclubs to find additional sources of revenue.
The committee passed the earplug ordinance on a voice vote, sending it on for consideration by the full City Council on April 11.