Client: Consumers for Health Choice
PR Team: In-house/ Murray and Company (Public Relations)/ The Wordsmiths
Press/The Government Relations Unit
Campaign: Vitamin B6
Cost: pounds 100,000
On 4 July 1997, food safety minister Jeff Rooker MP announced plans to
restrict sales of products containing vitamin B6, widely taken to relieve
pre-menstrual tension and other stress-related symptoms.
Under the proposals, the sale of products containing over 10mg of vitamin
B6 will be restricted to pharmacies, while products containing over 50mg
will be prescription-only.
Interested groups, including the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the
Health Food Manufacturers’ Association, met and agreed to mount a
nationwide campaign, led by lobby group Consumers for Health Choice
To persuade the Minister to re-examine the scientific basis of his
proposals and to consult with nutritional experts.
CHC’s strategy centred on influencing opinion among MPs and peers. A key
challenge was how to mount the campaign during the longest summer recess
The team’s solution was to enlist the support of health food retailers in
order to mobilise public opinion in constituencies. Eight hundred health
food shops agreed to set up B6 Action Stations in-store using posters and
information supplied by CHC, in order to encourage consumers to write to
or visit their MPs.
A second strand was to brief MPs and peers so they could raise
Parliamentary Questions. CHC’s key argument was that the Minister’s
proposals were based on flawed scientific research and therefore must be
reviewed. CHC secured the backing of nutritional experts including Dr Alan
Gaby, the world expert on vitamin B6. They agreed to brief MPs on the
scientific arguments for a review of the minister’s decision.
The media relations campaign focused on maximising coverage of the
campaign and the central message of the parliamentary campaign - that the
legislation was based on a flawed scientific understanding of the
On July 23rd, a press conference was held for national and specialist
press, TV and radio at which US nutrition experts denounced the
Government’s proposals as ’a threat to public health.’ The PR team also
conducted a series of tailored briefings with health columnists, consumer
writers and political correspondents where they outlined key issues in the
CHC says that 100,000 letters have been sent to the House of Commons.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food says
that it has received 9,500 letters from the public and 1,000 letters from
MPs, while 165 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion opposing the minister’s
The campaign has received blanket media coverage. It has been mentioned by
982 regional newspapers and radio stations and has been covered
extensively in the national, women’s and consumer health press, as well as
in the trade media. Broadcast coverage has included BBC 2’s Newsnight and
Radio 4’s Today programme.
Ultimately the campaign’s success rests on whether Rooker agrees to review
the basis for his proposals to control sales of vitamin B6. Campaign
supporter Dr Brian Iddon MP (Bolton SE) met him on 15 December to discuss
Vitamin B6. He reported that the minister had an ’open mind’ on the issue
and welcomed any new evidence.
In the short-term, the campaign has been highly successful in focusing
consumer, media and political attention on a small, little known vitamin
pill. Dr Iddon descibes the campaign as ’very effective’, while the
Guardian’s Westminster correspondent, David Hencke, believes that CHC is
on the way to winning the argument.
CHC is more cautious, saying only that it will ’redouble efforts’ to
ensure the Government reviews its proposals.