Fast-moving bill in California sets “dangerous precedent” for consumer access to dietary supplements


Last week, California’s Assembly Health Committee voted to ban sales of weight-loss dietary supplements to minors. The bill is headed for another round of votes and could ultimately be signed into law.

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Last week, California’s Assembly Health Committee voted yes on a bill to ban sales of weight-loss dietary supplements to people 18 and younger. The bill, AB 1341, is headed for another round of votes and could ultimately be signed into law.

AB 1341 would prohibit retailers from selling weight-loss dietary supplements and “diet pills” to consumers under the age of 18 in California. Retailers would be required to limit access to such products—for instance, placing them behind the sales counter or keeping them in locked displays—and would fine retailers for violations.

According to the Natural Products Association’s (NPA; Washington, DC) President and CEO Daniel Fabricant, PhD, and Director of Government Affairs Kyle Turk, if passed this legislation sets a dangerous precedent because it would become the first official state law to restrict consumer access to supplements in this way.

Previously, states like New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois have raised similar bills to restrict supplement purchasing by minors, but none have passed yet. In California, however, AB 1341 is moving quickly and stands a real chance of passing.

Fabricant says AB 1341 “is different in that the [bills in other states] stumbled, but this one is moving.”

Turk says AB 1341 is “dangerous” for both consumers and for the dietary supplement industry because it could spark efforts to restrict other types of supplements and foods (supplements are governed as foods) that he believes should not carry such forced restrictions.

“We’re staring down the barrel of, ‘Is the California state legislature prepared to start restricting access to things like chocolate chip cookies?'" he says. "You’re going to become obese, and obesity comes with chronic illness. I think this sets a dangerous precedent by becoming the first place to restrict access to foods.”

One of the advocates of AB 1341 is STRIPED (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders), an initiative based out of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital. STRIPED is advocating for similar bills in states like Massachusetts. On its website, STRIPED states that weight-loss and muscle-building supplements are “dangerous” because they could contain harmful ingredients and that their sale to minors should be restricted.

Fabricant says there is weak evidence linking health risks to consumption of these products by minors. “There’s really nothing that they have,” he says. “There are studies they’ve mischaracterized…because it fits the consumer protection agenda.” He points out, meanwhile, that other things potentially harmful to minors, like the extensive amount of time minors spend on digital devices and social media, exist but that states aren’t proposing to restrict usage of those devices.

If AB 1341 passes, it would be notable because California is a large state and could give similar bills in other states fuel to pass. “It’s not going to stop here,” says Fabricant. “We don’t know which products they would put behind the counter or which products they wouldn’t.”

“This is why we need to fight,” he adds. “Are you going to have retail stores that are going to stick a whole shelf of product behind the counter? I mean, what retailer can afford to do that right now?”

Following last week’s yes vote by the California Assembly Health Committee, the vote on AB 1341 will now head to the California Assembly Judiciary Committee next Tuesday, April 27. If passed there, it would next go to the California State Assembly for a vote, then the California State Senate, and ultimately to the office of the governor, where it could be signed into law.

So far, there hasn’t been a lot of public industry resistance to the bill, both Fabricant and Turk say. In the Assembly Health Committee, for instance, “it moved through committee so quickly, and there wasn’t a lot of resistance," says Fabricant. Fabricant and Turk are urging stakeholders to participate in grassroots efforts to oppose the bill, including using resources on NPA’s website.

Says Turk, “To not have the rest of industry talking about how concerned they should be about this bill is a detriment to everyone.”

“We’re worried about this happening,” says Fabricant about AB 1341's passing. “Once it happens in one state, it will happen in a lot of other states like Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington State, and we have to stop it at its set point.”

Turk adds: “If you look to next year, I can count up to as many as 15 other states where I could legitimately see this being introduced and passed if it gets the groundswell that started in California. That’s why we need to defeat this.”

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