Selling weight-loss and muscle-building supplements to minors in New York is now illegal

ALBANY, N.Y. — It’s now illegal to sell weight-loss and muscle-building supplements to minors in New York, under a first-in-the-nation law that went into effect this week.

Experts say loose federal regulation of dietary supplements has resulted in these products sometimes including unapproved ingredients, like steroids and heavy metals, putting kids at risk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees the market, but it doesn’t test products before they’re sold.

“The law that we crafted reflects the lack of regulation from the FDA and the lack of regulation in the industry,” said Jensen Jose, a regulatory counsel member with the Center for Science in the Public Interest who worked on the legislation.

State lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering a similar measure. California’s state house previously passed a ban on selling weight-loss supplements to minors that was vetoed by the governor, but lawmakers there are considering a new version. A Colorado law ending the sale of diet pills to minors goes into effect in July.

New York’s law allows the state to fine businesses who sell kids diet pills or supplements that promote themselves as helping build muscle or burn fat. Protein supplements and shakes are exempt, unless they contain another weight-loss or muscle-building ingredient.

While specific products aren’t banned, the law states judges enforcing the measure could consider the inclusion of ingredients including creatine, green tea extract and raspberry ketone.

The bill’s creators point to studies that have found some supplements secretly tainted with anabolic steroids and banned stimulants. That makes the products especially harmful for children, who are still growing, said Theresa Gentile, a registered nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

At Natural Body Astoria, a vitamin and supplement store in Queens, worker Nick Kubler said the company was already self-policing before the law came in this week.

“We’ve never really sold anything like that to children anyway, but we are definitely more aware now,” Kubler said.

Dhriti Rathod, a 17-year-old model and student at the New York Institute of Technology, said she’s in favor of the restrictions.

“People my age, they don’t look into this kind of stuff, they do it based on what they see online,” Rathod said. “They see people have been using it, so they go right into it and start using it, but they don’t know the dangers.”

But the new regulation has been met with pushback from the industry at large, with some retailers saying the definition of what can and can’t be sold to kids is unclear.

“The actual definition of what is illegal to sell to a minor is incredibly vague,” said Lee Wright, chief executive officer for nationwide chain The Vitamin Shoppe.

He says the company spent an “inordinate amount of time” to figure out how to implement the new rules. Its computer systems now show a pop-up screen when the kind of products targeted by the law are being sold.

The law was also challenged by at least two lawsuits from industry groups that argued it is too vague and that regulation is the FDA’s responsibility.

In one of those suits, a Manhattan federal judge last Friday denied a motion by the Council for Responsible Nutrition to stop the law from taking effect, finding it was “uncompromisingly clear” and saying the organization’s fears of potential fines and loss of income “pale in comparison” to the state’s goal of protecting youth from “unfettered access to dietary supplements.”

Spokespeople for the FDA did not respond to email messages requesting comment.

State Sen. Shelley Mayer, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said implementation shouldn’t be that hard for businesses, since some of them already sort their supplements in categories for weight loss or muscle building.

It’s unclear how large online retailers like Amazon will ensure they aren’t shipping the supplements to minors in the Empire State. The company did not respond to a request for comment. Certain products on The Vitamin Shoppe’s online store note that buyers in New York will need to present an ID on delivery.

Maxim Abramciuc, an 18-year-old who has used muscle-building supplements in the past, said while he understands the restriction, he doesn’t fully agree with it.

“They should be able to buy some of these products,” he said while browsing through a vitamin and supplement shop in Albany. “If it has little side effects, why shouldn’t children take it?”


Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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