Part of being a good CEO is the ability to predict what may happen as an unintended consequence of well-intentioned actions. In my two decades directing a worldwide leader in contract manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements, based on Long Island, I’ve seen just about everything. And I know that sometimes, the simplest-sounding path is often the most dangerous.
A bill recently passed by the New York State Legislature would erroneously and unnecessarily restrict access to a wide swath of safe and legal dietary supplements. The approach purports to prohibit sales of “weight loss” products to persons under 18 years old, and puts the focus on retail stores to police their sales.
However, the approach would treat retailers unequally by leaving online sales untouched, and thus discriminate against hundreds of brick-and-mortar businesses in New York. This rule also would cast an overly broad net over thousands of safe and beneficial dietary supplements that may fall under the ambiguous categories of “weight loss” or “muscle building” products. And, as with all rules, this proposal would ultimately restrict access for all customers down the road.
The biggest issue is that this bill ignores the realities of life for adolescents and everyone else. For instance, the proposed restriction on green tea as a “weight loss supplement” is odd as there are no similar restrictions on purchasing traditional caffeine-containing products such as coffee, iced tea, espresso, or diet soda. Yet in many cases these items have more caffeine per serving than a supplement. Sometimes, these “traditional” items are also freely available on school property. This bill will only punish small retail stores, and will not prevent those under 18 from acquiring energy or caffeine-containing products from another source.
There are also potential challenges with the overly broad definitions in this bill. A prime example of an ingredient so impacted is choline, where scientists have researched its benefits for both its fat-burning potential and its critical influence on brain development and prenatal functions. Because choline has a tangential weight-loss benefit, this measure ultimately may limit access to it and other desired supplementation for ingredients with alternate, and perhaps even more critical, scientific purposes.
In addition to limiting access to these legal products for responsible adults who may benefit from them, the bill would penalize manufacturers and retailers who provide them. Many federal rules govern the manufacturing and marketing of supplements; additional restrictions in New York are unnecessary, expansive and burdensome.
Concerns stem from a perceived misuse of certain products, particularly by teenagers at risk of eating disorders. However, these types of products would still be available to those under 18 via internet sales. This legislation would only further economic hardship for small businesses that already lose sales to online sellers, and does very little to address the root cause of eating disorders in that population.
Critically, there is no credible scientific data showing ingredients identified in this bill cause body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or mental health problems, nor is there data that indicates restricting access to supplements will help resolve eating disorders. Instead of addressing the complex issue of eating disorders in adolescents, this bill could lead to unintended consequences of increasing nutritional deficiencies across the population.
We deserve better from Albany than simple-sounding but poorly designed laws to address legitimate concerns about eating disorders and the nutrition deficiencies they cause. I encourage everyone to be vocal in opposing this bad idea.
This guest essay reflects the views of Mike Finamore, chief executive of Commack-based Gemini Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, and other over-the-counter products.