A bill that would prohibit retail establishments from selling weight loss supplements or over the counter diet pills to those under the age of 18 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, paving the way for a full Senate vote on the bill.
Senate Bill 1341 by Senator Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) would require retail establishments to check IDs to make sure that those under 18 without a prescription could not buy or acquire weight loss drugs or supplements. Under the bill, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and members of groups affected by the sale of diet pills, such as eating disorder groups, would determine which weight loss pills and supplements would be given the age limit.
In addition, notices would be posted about the health dangers of those selected pills and supplements. A fine of up to $1,000 would be issued for each violation of SB 1341, with clerks at retail establishments being specifically exempt from civil penalties, disciplinary actions, or discharge for violating the bill, with the penalty instead going to the retail establishment. If passed, SB 1341 would come into effect July 1, 2023.
Senator Garcia wrote the bill as a protectionary measure against the harmful effects that many weight loss products have on those under 18, as well as helping stop eating orders and other related health problems that have arisen in those under 18.
“We need to do more to protect our youth from the harmful effects that weight loss supplements and over-the-counter diet pills have on our youth,” said Garcia of her bill earlier this year. “With easy access, our youth are subject to eating disorders and many other health implications. We need to stand up to an industry that puts profit over people.”
SB 1341 had originally been introduced in February of 2021, but only slowly made progress, passing a few Assembly Committees before being stalled that May due to a variety of factors including remnants of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic logjam of paused bills making their way through, the bill being placed in a suspense file, and other urgent bills needing to be heard. SB 1341 was then brought back in January of this year where it quickly passed the Assembly with a 53-13 with 10 abstention split based largely on party lines. Since then it has continued to pass Senate Committees with GOP and some Democratic opposition, leading to the 4-1 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Support for, opposition against SB 1341
Health officials, eating disorder advocates, and others in favor of the bill have kept up giving SB 1341 traction for over a year. They have noted a link between diet pills and eating disorders, especially in youths, and have said that, due to few regulations, weight loss pills and supplements go after vulnerable young people and can pose a danger if not used correctly.
“Diet pills and other weight loss products are not meant for children and should not be sold over the counter,” said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), a supporter of the bill. “Diet pills wreak havoc on a child’s physical development and mental health. Some have been recalled because their use by teens in viral social media challenges have led to horrible outcomes. Yet, their use has doubled among adolescents. That’s why we need AB 1341 now. Experts have consistently warned of the threats ingredients like phentermine, orlistat and sibutramine pose. Like their predecessors – regulated in the 1980s – these products are harmful and the risks are too high for them to be so easily available.”
Dr. Jason Nagata, an assistant professor at the University of California – San Francisco, also added that “Youth who use over-the-counter diet pills are six times more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder compared to nonusers. Diet pills, weight loss supplements, and eating disorders affect youth of all races, genders, sexual orientations, sizes, and socio-economic backgrounds.”
However, despite a strong advocacy for the bill, many who oppose it, including many retail and drug groups, note that there is little back to the claims of the bill advocates. In statements dating back to last year, they say that no definite links between dietary supplements and eating disorders have been formed, with the FDA not even finding any links. They have also pointed out many troubling provisions in the bill, such as members of the eating disorder community having a hand in flagging which supplements and pills should be marked for age restriction.
“One: The bill still puts the authority in the hands of the eating disorder community to dictate what products will be prohibited, which is a major concern,” said Natural Products Association (NPA) director of government affairs Kyle Turk on Tuesday. “Then, two: while it doesn’t list out specific ingredients anymore, there is still the opportunity for ingredients to get flagged.”
Many are also worried about the implications for legitimate reasons to lose weight.
“Parents can’t be with kids, especially teenagers, 24/7,” explained Ashley Baum, a health instructor and under-21 diet coach, to the Globe on Wednesday. “They may need to go out to get weight loss products. Not the flash in the pan variety, but ones with a track records that work and don’t harm them. It could be losing weight for a medical reason, making weight in a sport, needing to do it for a job, etc. This bill would cut into their ability to do that. Honestly, this bill is either going to make them be more reliable on their parents at an age where they are breaking away from that or they just ask older adults to get them it from stores. All this bill does is add an unnecessary step.”
SB 1341 is expected to go before a Senate vote in the coming weeks.
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