California bill would restrict access to weight loss supplements, impose hefty fines

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

The California State Legislature may consider restricting the sale of some dietary supplements. ©Getty Images - rschlie
The California State Legislature may consider restricting the sale of some dietary supplements. ©Getty Images - rschlie

Related tags weight loss products Weight loss Weight management

A bill introduced in the California State legislature would restrict the sale of weight loss supplements and impose significant penalties for noncompliance, the Natural Products Alliance has warned.

The bill,  designated as AB 1341​, was introduced on Friday by state assembly member Cristina Garcia, who represents a district in southeastern Los Angeles County. Her measure would  prohibit retailers from selling dietary supplements aimed at weight loss to anyone under 18 years of age.  The bill would also require retailers to limit access to these products to all consumers and only allow their sale through a store employee.

State department to decide which products will be affected

The bill defines weight loss products as “thermogens, lipotropics, hormones, including hormone modulators and hormone mimetics, appetite suppressants.” ​ Determining what constitutes a weight loss supplement or ‘over the counter diet pill’ would be left the California State Department of Health.

In addition to the provisions for sequestering the products, the bill would mandate that the health department develop a warning to be displayed along with teh products.  In the bill’s language that warning would advise that, “certain dietary supplements for weight loss or over-the-counter diet pills are known to cause gastrointestinal impairment, tachycardia, hypertension, myocardial infarction, stroke, organ failure, other serious injury, death, and severe liver injury sometimes requiring transplant or leading to death.”

The bill also mandates a fine of up to $1,000 for a violation.  The bill is scheduled for its first possible committee hearing on March 22.

Daniel Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of NPA noted that that fine is greater than that for the noncompliant sale of products actually proven to harm health. 

“The fine is greater than the one you would get for selling tobacco to someone under 18,”​ he told NutraIngredients-USA.

Bill singles out retail channel

Fabricant noted that the bill addresses only retail sales while leaving online access to these products unfettered.  It would serve to add a further pothole in the road to recovery for stores hard hit by pandemic lockdowns.

“The notion that this is even a priority during a pandemic and while California is facing its largest budget deficit in history is absurd,” ​Fabricant said.  “While this proposal is misguided, it is unfortunately becoming an alarming trend across the country as more states consider policies that would restrict access to nutritional supplements.”

“Hasn’t brick and mortar been through enough with the pandemic?” ​he added.

Bill mirrors other efforts

Fabricant noted that the bill was similar to the several that have been introduced by Massachusetts State Rep. Kay Kahn. She has introduced bills starting in 2016​ that have attracted pushback from NPA, the Council for Responsible Nutrition and academic experts.

Other similar measures have been put forward in Illinois, New York State and New York City.  A common thread for some of these law is a Harvard study—disputed by dietary supplement industry experts—that purported to find a link with the use of weight loss and muscle building supplements and increase adverse events among young consumers​. 

The fear among clinicians who treat young patients who are suffering from eating disorders is that these products will exacerbate their conditions. But Fabricant said a recent review by his organization of adverse event reports obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request to FDA found no adverse events or reporting associated with dietary supplements and eating disorders. 

“Nutritional supplements are simply natural ingredients found in foods and restricting access to them is unfair to California consumers, hurts responsible retailers and drains the state budget through lost sales taxes. Nobody wins,”​ Fabricant said.

Grassroots link

Fabricant said NPA anticipates that a similar bill will be introduced in the California Senate. NPA says it has organized a grassroots campaign​ to communicate with California lawmakers about the bill.

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