CAMPAIGNS: Vitamin B6 gets a shot in the arm - Lobbying

Client: Consumers for Health Choice

Client: Consumers for Health Choice



PR Team: In-house/ Murray and Company (Public Relations)/ The Wordsmiths

Press/The Government Relations Unit



Campaign: Vitamin B6



Timescale: Ongoing



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

(CHC).



Objectives



To persuade the Minister to re-examine the scientific basis of his

proposals and to consult with nutritional experts.



Tactics



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

in history.



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

issue.



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

debate.



Results



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

proposals.



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.



Verdict



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.



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