On January 20, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a proposed guidance document regarding the FDA’s current position on low risk devices and general wellness products. This guidance document directs the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) to deal with inquires from manufacturers asking whether or not their products qualify as “devices” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). Devices are defined in section 201(h) of the FDCA as an “instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, contrivance, implant, in vitro reagent, or other similar or related article, including any component, part, or accessory, which is …intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, in man … or intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man….”
In the recently published FDA guidance, the FDA is instructing its staff not to consider “general wellness products” as “devices” for purposes of the FDCA, meaning that these low risk devices will not have the considerable oversight that other “devices” receive from the FDA. The proposed guidance document defines a “general wellness product” as meeting a two-factor test. First, that the products are intended for only general wellness use, as defined in this guidance. Second, that the products present a very low risk to users’ safety. However, the decision by the FDA not to regulate these products does not mean that those classes of products are safe, effective, and not misbranded for its intended use.
General Wellness Products
For a product to be classified as a general wellness product, it must meet one of two criteria:
1. It must have, “an intended use that relates to a maintaining or encouraging a general state of health or a healthy activity;” or
2. It must have an, “intended use claim that associates the role of healthy lifestyle with helping to reduce the risk or impact of certain chronic diseases or conditions…”
General wellness products are allowed to make claims about improving a general state of health, but they must not make any references to diseases or conditions. General wellness products are only allowed to make references to diseases or conditions when it is well understood that healthy lifestyle choices may reduce the risk or impact of a chronic disease or medical condition. This means that generally accepted science has proven that healthy lifestyle choices may play an important role in health outcomes.
Low Risk Devices
If a product presents an inherent risk to the safety of the user, then it is not exempted by this guidance document. If a product does any of the following four things, then it is not a low risk product for purposes of this guidance document and is not considered a general wellness product if:
1. the product is invasive;
2. the low risk device involves an intervention or technology that may pose a risk to a user’s safety if device controls are not applied, such as risks from lasers, radiation exposure, or implants;
3. it raises novel questions of usability, or
4. if the low risk device raises questions of biocompatibility.
This guidance document is an interesting stance from the FDA insomuch as the FDA is taking a self-limiting position by essentially saying that the Agency should not be regulating these devices. Rarely does the FDA take such a self-limiting stance on issues of product regulation. However, just because the FDA is not regulating these General Wellness products, it does not mean that they are completely unregulated. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) may also have the authority to decide whether a general wellness product is a consumer product under CPSC’s authority vested in it by the Consumer Product Safety Act. Accordingly, how this guidance document and federal law will be applied in practice remains to be seen.
A guidance document serves as the Agency’s official stance on a subject. Further, it does not create any legally enforceable duties upon the Agency. It solely guides the decision makers within an agency to uniformly apply the specified laws and regulations. This proposed guidance document is open to public comment before it becomes final. Currently, electronic comments can be sent to the FDA at this website. The public comment period is open for 90 days, and then the Agency will review all of the comments that are received and will finalize the guidance document.
Navigating the web of regulations and regulatory bodies can be a daunting task. When selling or distributing a product, a company must be absolutely certain that they are meeting all regulatory requirements or risk enforcement action. If you think your product may be affected by the new guidance document and want to be sure your claims and labeling are in compliance or see how you may be regulated by FDA, our office offers reviews of product labels and health claims. If you have any questions about the new guidance document or whether your product is considered a “device” please contact us at email@example.com.