NPA pushes back against Rhode Island bill that would restrict supplement sales

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - serggn
©Getty Images - serggn

Related tags Dietary supplement companies Dietary supplement industry Dietary supplements weight loss products weight management products Sports nutrition products regulations Sports nutrition sector Sports nutrition Dietary supplement

The Natural Products Association has testified against a proposed Rhode Island law that would restrict the sale of supplements to minors. The bill could have far ranging implications, NPA warns.

The proposed bill, designated as SB 2613 and sponsored by three Democratic State Senators, was introduced on March 10. The bill would require retailers to place supplements behind the counter and require people who want to buy them to show identification. 

Stern warning, stiff fines

The bill would also require a warning to be posted to the effect that ,“[C]ertain over-the-counter diet pills, or dietary supplements 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.”

The approach is similar to that taken in bills introduced in California and New York.  Where it differs is in the $2,000 fines that would be levied for each violation.  NPA notes that this is eight times the size of the fine levied for the sale of tobacco, a known carcinogen, to a minor.

Fabricant:  All supplement sales could be affected

The bill also differs in that, at least in the letter of its language, it does not try to differentiate among supplement products, according to NPA president and CEO Daniel Fabricant, PhD. Most of the other proposed state laws called out weight management and muscle building supplements specifically, though those measures were often short on how those categories would be defined.  Fabricant said with the Rhode Island bill, there is a potential for the sale of all dietary supplements to be affected.

“This is the worst of these sorts of bills yet,”​ Fabricant told NutraIngredients-USA​.

Fabricant said it’s unclear if the bills’s sponsors truly want to put all supplements behind a fence, or if it represents a negotiating tactic.

“There is a political strategy that if you want a foot of land at first you take two feet,” ​he said.

Proponents claim supplements threaten some young people

This bill, and the others like it, seem to find their antecedents in various bills proposed by Massachusetts State Rep. Kay Khan​ in recent years.

A common thread for some of these bills, including those put forward by Khan and another measure proposed in Illinois, is a Harvard study.  That study—disputed by dietary supplement industry experts—purported to find a link between the use of weight loss and muscle building supplements and increased adverse events​ among young consumers. 

NPA: No data for assertion of connection to eating disorders

The fear among clinicians who treat young patients who are suffering from eating disorders is that these products will exacerbate their conditions. But according to testimony from Kyle Turk, NPA’s director of governmental affairs on the Rhode Island bill, NPA filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2019 to see if evidence for such a link can be found among adverse event reports.  Turk said the results of that review were unequivocal.

“No data point connects eating disorders to weight management or muscle-building products,”​  Turk said.

Turk’s testimony laid out the many ways in which the regulation of dietary supplements already bolsters the safety of these products. Those include requirements to be in compliance with good manufacturing practices (GMPs), to submit health claims for review prior to going to market, to file New Dietary Ingredient Notifications proving the safety of novel ingredients and others.

Burden on smaller retailers

Turk also noted that the bill could place undue burdens on some small retailers still struggling to recover from the effects of pandemic lockdowns.

“The bill fails to consider whether retailers have the physical space to segregate the products. Brick and mortar have been crippled over the last two years, and legislation like this one is just another nail in their coffins,” ​Turk said in his testimony.

“Restricting access to [these products] is unfair to Rhode Islanders who value health and wellness, hurts responsible retailers, and drains Rhode Island's budget through lost sales taxes. Nobody wins,”​ Turk added.

Fabricant urged any supplement company doing business in Rhode Island to communicate quickly with lawmakers there to voice opposition to the bill.  With the Democratic supermajority in the state legislature, he said the bill has a good chance to become law.

“I think too many people have fallen asleep on these bills.  They think, that’s just those sports guys. This affects all of us. These bills liken our industry to the sale of alcohol and tobacco,” ​Fabricant said.

NutraIngredients-USA​ has contacted the office of Rhode Island Majority Leader Sen. Michael McCaffrey, one of the bills' sponsors, for comment.

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