Trade associations bring pressure to bear against CA bill that would restrict sale of weight management products

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Advocates for a California bill that would restrict the sale of weight management supplements to minors claim the products exacerbate eating disorders among this group. ©Getty Images - Dmitriy Protsenko
Advocates for a California bill that would restrict the sale of weight management supplements to minors claim the products exacerbate eating disorders among this group. ©Getty Images - Dmitriy Protsenko

Related tags Weight management Regulation

A California bill to restrict the sale of weight management supplements has passed a key state legislative committee, increasing its chance eventually becoming law, trade associations have warned.

A transcript of the committee hearing was made available to NutraIngredients-USA​ by the Natural Products Association. In the hearing several speakers testified about Assembly Bill 1341​ that was introduced earlier this year by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia.  The hearing was before the Assembly Health Committee.

Advocates:  Products present unacceptable risks

The bill would mandate that “dietary supplements for weight loss and over-the-counter diet pills” t​hat contain “ephedrine group alkaloids or other specified substances”​ not be sold to anyone under 18 years of age.  The assertion is that such products can exacerbate eating disorders among this group of consumers. Garcia testified that supplements are responsible for 23,000 emergency room visits annually.

At the hearing Dr Jason Nagata, MD, a pediatrician, testified that, “[W]hat many people don't know is that weight loss supplements are not reviewed by the FDA for safety or effectiveness before they enter the market. Research assessing the composition of these supplements have found that many are laced with banned substances prescription drugs stimulants steroids and other toxic ingredients. 
Rigorous scientific study after study has shown these types of supplements that pose serious health risks to consumers. For instance, one recent scientific study found that youth using weight loss supplements were three times more likely than those using  ordinary vitamins to experience severe medical harm, including hospitalization disability and even death,”​ Nagata added.

Nagata said the bill would move these products from open shelves to behind the counter. Just as we have done with other risky products like cigarettes.”

Kelsey Wu, 16, testified as a citizen witness who claims to have suffered an eating disorder from the age of 14.  Wu asserted that the marketers of such products play upon the anxieties and poor body image suffered by some teens.  But Wu went on to address an issue that the bill does not, that being that such products are sold not just in brick and mortar retail establishments, but also online.

“I have 24-7 access to hundreds of products and supplements that I can easily buy with no legal restrictions whatsoever and just a click of a button on my phone,”​ Wu said, and went to say that such products can be purchased at the local CVS with no input from a pharmacist.

AHPA: Bill would only push sales to murky online marketplaces

Public relations professional Larisa Cespedes testified on behalf of the American Herbal Products Association against the bill.

“While we support the assembly member’s goal of addressing the serious public health problem of eating disorders among youth we must respectfully oppose AB 1341.Although the bill is well intentioned it would serve only to scapegoat dietary supplement products without actually educating the teens,” ​Cespedes said.

She also noted that ephedrine alkaloids have already been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration, which has ample authority to regulate the supplement sector.  Cespedes also questioned whether the studies cited by Garcia and Dr. Nagata really supported the assertion of a widespread problem with risky products.  Two of the studies did not address weight management products specifically, while another did not provide evidence that teens were using the products in excess of manufacturers’ recommendations, she maintained.

Cespedes also cautioned that complicating the sale of legitimate weight management products in brick and mortar retail establishments might actually make it more likely that some underage consumers would get their hands on the kind of risky products that the bill seeks to address.

“The breath of the product [the bill] covers will lead to unintended consequences, including pushing consumers to purchase product from dubious sellers in online marketplaces where the vast majority of these unsafe adulterated products may be sold,”​ she said.

Speakers for the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the Consumer Health Care Products Association also voiced opposition to the bill.

NPA: Bill stands real chance of becoming law

Dan Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of NPA, said the bill will now go to a Justice Committee hearing where NPA plans to testify.  Fabricant said NPA has helped have more than 3,000 emails sent to the California legislature in opposition of the bill but that more needs to be done.

“If the bill gets to the Assembly floor with the weight of two committees behind it, I would think the chance of passage would be good,”​ he said.

Fabricant questioned whether supplements really play a role in the problems that teens suffering from eating disorders experience.

“Anyone who might have unknowingly taken a tainted products and was harmed by it, that’s  a tragedy and I don’t want to minimize that.  But data shows that kids spend as much as seven hours a day on their phones, and it’s the supplements’ fault they have these issues?” ​he said.

Fabricant also noted that data from FDA shows that the number of tainted products identified by the Agency is only a tiny subset of the more than 85,000 products on the market.

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