The Massachusetts state legislature has tabled a bill that would prohibit the sale of over-the-counter weight-loss and muscle-building supplements to consumers under 18. The bill has been sent to a study by the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health, meaning that it will not be up for passage during this legislative session.
A version of the bill, HB 1195, was first introduced in 2015. Democratic state representative Kay Khan, 11th Middlesex district, reintroduced the proposed legislation on February 3, 2017. In addition to barring minors from purchasing weight-loss and muscle-building supplements, the bill would require retailers to place such products out of reach and ensure that they are “not directly accessible by consumers.”
Further, the legislation would require retailers to display conspicuous notices developed by the Department of Public Health stating that those dietary supplement products “are known to cause gastrointestinal impairment tachycardia, hypertension, myocardial infarction, stroke, severe liver injury sometimes requiring transplant or leading to death, organ failure, other serious injury, and death.” Per the proposed bill, retailers that violated these conditions would be fined as much as $2,000.
Last October, representatives from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC) and partner organizations testified before the Joint Committee on Public Health in opposition to HB 1195. During the hearing, CRN argued that the proposed ban would hurt Massachusetts businesses. It stated that mandatory age restrictions for weight-loss and muscle-building supplements would potentially incentivize retailers to stop selling those products altogether. This would, in turn, keep not only minors but consumers over the age of 18 from accessing those supplements.
CRN emphasized that HB 1195, as proposed, is too broad, and unclear about what, specifically, it refers to by weight-loss and muscle-building supplements, stating that the bill could include popular ingredients like protein powders, creatine, and fiber, among others. In fact, said CRN at the hearing, many common dietary supplements, including sports and energy drinks, protein bars, and ready-to-drink beverage products, are used by both athletes and the general public for a variety of reasons. If HB 1195 passed, CRN argued, its lack of specificity about what constitutes weight-loss and muscle-building supplements would likely mean that such products could no longer be sold to minors.
Plus, said CRN, the bill would achieve no clear health objective. Following news that HB 1195 would be tabled, Mike Greene, senior vice president, government relations, CRN, stated in a press release that while the CRN continues to seek ways to protect consumers, HB 1195 would not have been an effective way to do so. “Consumers are well-protected under the stringent federal regulatory structure,” he said. CRN said that educating consumers about proper use of these supplements would also be a more effective method for ensuring consumers’ safety.
“[HB 1195] is misguided and the arguments made by the bill’s proponents are broad, unproven, and not applicable to dietary supplements,” said Greene. “If passed, HB 1195 would prevent responsible consumers from purchasing weight-loss and fitness supplements that are backed by considerable scientific evidence and a long history of safe use. Further, the bill would place an economic burden on Massachusetts’s 400 private retail establishments and 300 registered pharmacies that carry these products.”
He added: “CRN thanks legislators in Massachusetts for recognizing the needless burden HB 1195 would place on consumers and businesses alike.”
HB 1195 will now be sent to a study by the Joint Committee on Public Health, though it could be reintroduced at a later date. CRN noted that although the bill is not likely to be pulled from study during this legislative session, the association will continue to monitor this and other legislative efforts to ensure that the millions of Americans who take dietary supplements continue to have access to those products. For example, a 2016 bill (AB 4712) introduced by the Honorable Linda Rosenthal, assemblywoman in the New York State Assembly, aims to prohibit the sale or distribution of creatine to minors. CRN has challenged that bill as well, citing creatine’s record of safe, long-term use.