Bill to ban sale of diet pills to minors advances in Assembly

By: - November 15, 2022 7:00 am

New Jersey legislators now are mulling a bill that would ban the sale of diet pills and muscle-building supplements to anyone under age 18. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

Teenagers and children would be barred from buying diet pills and muscle-building dietary supplements under a bill New Jersey legislators in the Assembly advanced Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington), would forbid sales of non-prescription supplements to anyone under age 18, with violators facing fines of up to $750. Lawmakers in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Missouri are considering similar bills.

The measure comes as eating disorders, especially among young people, have spiked, a trend the bill’s supporters blamed on the pandemic and social media.

Eating disorders rose 70% during the pandemic, said Amy Kennedy, co-founder of the Kennedy Forum, a nonprofit that focuses on mental health and substance use disorders.

More than half of teenage girls and a third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors including supplements, which often are promoted on social media platforms like TikTok that are popular among youth, she added.

Because over-the-counter supplements are susceptible to misuse and can cause physical and psychological harm, she urged members of the Assembly’s health committee to forbid their sale to juveniles “just as we have done with other risky products like tobacco.”

“Dieting often begins during childhood, often before the onset of puberty,” Kennedy said. “It’s a distinctly vulnerable time and age, and we should be protecting our children and youth from supplements that market themselves as a solution for weight loss, preying on our young children when they’re at their most formative.”

Paige Sklar and Brianna Mullins of the National Eating Disorders Association testified that the federal Food and Drug Administration does not screen dietary supplements for safety or efficacy, even though many contain harmful ingredients like stimulants and steroids that could cause health problems like liver failure. Because they’re largely unregulated, companies don’t report their toxic side effects, Mullins said.

Eating disorders are the second deadliest mental health disorder, behind opioid addiction, she added.

“These products are on the shelves next to your vitamins in the aisle of your neighborhood pharmacy and available for purchase by any 12-year-old desperate to achieve the physique displayed on the box in front of them,” Mullins said. “Considering this, why would consumers — children among them — think that these products could cause such harm?”

The committee did hear from a lobbyist for one group that blasted the bill as “a slap in the face to public health and consumer choice.”

Kyle Turk of the Natural Products Association told legislators that 80% of Americans take at least one dietary supplement, and he warned the bill under consideration would stop minors from buying “well-researched and popular products” like creatine, lysine, zinc, and ashwagandha. He also argued that the FDA can order a supplement removed from store shelves if it’s deemed a public health hazard.

The legislation could hurt small businesses, he added.

“Under the proposal today, there will be erroneous restrictions, most notably on small businesses such as your local pharmacy, convenience stores, and health food stores by prohibiting the sale of popular products,” Turk said. “Restricting access to them is also unfair to those who value health and wellness and hurts responsible retailers.”

Despite such concerns, the committee agreed to advance the bill, with three Republican members abstaining. A Senate version of the bill is stalled in committee.

resolution introduced in August that would designate a Creatine Day in New Jersey has not moved in the Senate.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.