Diet pills, also known as Appetite Suppressants or Fat Binders, are regulated by the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority and, as such, are adult-only products unless directed otherwise by a GP or healthcare professional. Most carry minimum age recommendations on the product packaging. While it is not illegal to sell diet pills to young people, many retailers have voluntary codes in place to prevent underage sales. This means that they commit to asking young people to show photo evidence that they are 18 or older when trying to buy diet pills. Some operate a Challenge 21 or 25 policy in which anyone that looks under 21 or 25 trying to buy diet pills should be asked for proof that they are at least 18.
At Serve Legal, we work with retail clients all over the UK and Ireland to support their commitment to responsible retailing, helping them keep age-restricted products like alcohol, knives, tobacco and e-cigarettes out of the hands of children. We also help retailers independently audit their compliance with voluntary codes, such as that in place for sales of energy drinks to young people.
We viewed the Watchdog programme with concern and, six months on decided to carry out our own mystery shopper tests to see where we might be able to help retailers. Our 18-19 year old auditors were deployed to high streets in 10 towns and cities to buy diet pills from household name supermarkets, pharmacy chains and health stores, including those featured in the Watchdog investigation. Their experience showed that there is still room for improvement.
- In 50% of audits, auditors bought diet pills unchallenged with no proof of age requested.
- In 58% of audits, age restriction POS (e.g. Challenge 25) were not visible on or around the products.
Auditors found that point of sale materials, labelling and packaging were inconsistently applied across retailers, with some stores within the same organisation applying different standards. On occasion, staff wore Challenge 25 badges on their uniform and Challenge 25 stickers were displayed at check-outs, yet there was an absence of age restriction signs around the diet supplements on shelves.
In others, diet pills had additional packaging, security tags and labels stating that under 18s should only use the product under the supervision of a healthcare professional, but our auditors were able to buy them without being challenged for age ID. A number of pharmacies did advise the young auditors that before being permitted to purchase diet supplements, they would first need to have a consultation.
After the Watchdog exposé, the high street retailers in question told the BBC that they would improve operational practices, staff training, customer communication and signage, with one introducing a Challenge 25 policy. Six months down the line, our audit finds that while some retailers are actively taking steps to improve performance through internal initiatives, they may benefit and make swifter progress with the help of external support to check compliance.
With body confidence widely cited (Mental Health Foundation, Heads Together, Children’s Society et al) as a contributing factor in mental health problems amongst young people, some may be attracted to buying diet supplements.
Our audit findings are a reminder to retailers selling diet supplements to be vigilant, consistent and tough on age verification and staff training if they are to improve compliance with their voluntary codes. Independent auditing of their own performance is a great place to start.
To find out more about the how Serve Legal can help and support your business, contact: Jenni Garratt, Sales & Client Manager for Serve Legal on 07483002146 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org