A bill prohibiting the sale of certain dietary supplements to minors has failed to pass in the Massachusetts Legislature.
House Bill 3471 was sent on June 30 to a study by the Joint Committee on Public Health in a development that effectively killed the prospect for the bill’s passage in the current legislative session, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN).
Trade groups in Washington representing the dietary supplement industry, including CRN and the Natural Products Association (NPA), lobbied against the bill. If passed, the legislation would have barred the sale of weight loss or muscle building supplements to people under the age of 18.
“We’re talking about building muscle," said Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of NPA, in a phone interview. “Well, milk builds muscle. Are you going to put milk behind the counter?"
If the bill had been specific and, for example, prohibited the sale of pro-hormone supplements to minors, “I don’t think anyone in the industry would object to something like that," Fabricant said. “The razor on this [legislation] is very sharp but also very broad … [and] is what’s particularly concerning."
State Rep. Kay Khan, a Democrat from Newton who chairs the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, introduced the bill in 2015. That was the same year a group of state attorneys general—including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey—requested that Congress launch an inquiry into herbal supplements and whether FDA should have a greater oversight role. Julia Lucivero, Khan’s chief of staff, had no immediate comment Tuesday.
The legislation had garnered the support of the National Eating Disorder Association in New York, the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association in Newton, and the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.
According to a document in support of the bill, supplements marketed for weight loss and muscle building are linked to serious health risks, and some products are adulterated with illegal substances such as prescription pharmaceuticals and steroids. The document also contended that such products are linked to eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder.
Under the bill, pharmacies would have been required to sell weight loss and muscle building supplements behind the counter. What’s more, the legislature required that retail establishments post a notice “clearly communicating that certain dietary supplements for weight loss or muscle building 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."
In a press release announcing the demise of the bill, Mike Greene of CRN countered that “the arguments being advanced in favor of the bill were not based on data and did not make sense."
“This bill would have needlessly restricted safe, legal and regulated products that may help with weight management or fitness goals," he proclaimed.
CRN said it actively opposed the bill since last summer, testifying before the Joint Committee on Public Health and organizing a coalition of opposition with partnering organizations that would have been affected by the legislation. NPA worked with the Dewey Square Group, a public affairs and advocacy group, in lobbying against the bill, Fabricant noted.
Fabricant said it is important for the industry to remain “vigilant" because the bill could reappear again in Massachusetts, where the vast majority of the state legislature is comprised of Democrats, and it wouldn’t surprise him if a similar proposal was introduced in Congress.
Finally, he argued HB 3471, if passed, could have set a dangerous precedent by laying the groundwork for future bans on other categories of dietary supplements.
“If people are successful in endeavors like this, if they are able to convince consumers that these products shouldn’t be sold to people under the age of 18 … what do you think the next line of defense is to say, ‘Well botanicals shouldn’t be sold to anyone under 18 years old or multivitamins shouldn’t be sold to anyone under 18 years old,’" Fabricant said. “Where does the line get drawn?"