Buono-Doria bill regulating non-prescription contacts approved

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono and Joseph V. Doria which would require that non-prescription, cosmetic contact lenses only be distributed by licensed professionals was approved by the Senate yesterday by a vote of 37-0, receiving final legislative approval.

“While cosmetic contacts might seem like a simple novelty item, the simple fact of the matter is that they’re largely unregulated, and can cause serious vision problems, such as corneal abrasions, conjunctivitis, and even blindness,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Contact lenses should be properly fitted by a licensed professional, not handed out over the counter, and should be subject to strict safety guidelines, whether they are prescription or not. The fact that kids can get their hands on these and do lasting damage to their eyesight makes it that much more of a priority, and we need to take immediate legislative action.”

“The reasons why we trust optometrists to deal with prescription contacts are the same reasons why we shouldn’t trust anyone else, prescription or not,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson. “There are so many variables involved when fitting contacts, and so many safety issues that need to be addressed by a trained professional. We cannot turn a blind eye to the safety issues surrounding these unsafe contact lenses, and we need to ensure that only licensed optometrists be responsible for distributing contacts.”

The bill, S-2681, would effectively prohibit the dispensing of contact lenses without proper licensure in the State of New Jersey. Under current law, licensure is presently required to distribute prescription lenses, but non-corrective contact lenses, which are also known as “plano” lenses, are not covered. This bill would expand what’s covered by the distribution guidelines, and would impose a criminal penalty of 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine to anyone in violation of the distribution guidelines.

Recently, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued consumer protection warnings regarding plano lenses, but continue to classify them as a cosmetic, and as such, do not receive as much scrutiny as other medical products.

“Because plano lenses are still classified as a cosmetic product, they slip under the radar in terms of medical regulation,” said Senator Buono. “However, with the medical problems that come with improperly fitted and damaged contact lenses, it’s obvious that they should fall under the same purview.”

“Over-the-counter vendors simply do not have the training and equipment to ensure a client’s safety when using these contact lenses,” said Senator Doria. “We’re not debating the validity of someone choosing a different eye color than their own. With this bill, we’re just saying that if you choose non-corrective contact lenses to change the appearance of your eyes, you should go to a trained and licensed professional.”

The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.

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