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DIETARY SUPPLEMENT BLACKOUT DAY TO SUPPORT HATCH/RICHARDSON BILLS

This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet

Executive Summary

DIETARY SUPPLEMENT BLACKOUT DAY TO SUPPORT HATCH/RICHARDSON BILLS is scheduled for Aug. 13. The National Nutritional Foods Association distributed Blackout Day "kits" to supplement retailers in July, explaining that the day is intended to support the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Acts of 1993, which were introduced in April by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) ("The Tan Sheet" April 12, p. 6). "The only realistic hope for preserving not only our businesses, but also our way of life . . . is to use creative and decisive action to ensure the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Acts (S 784 and HR 1709) by October," materials in the Blackout Day kit state. To date, NNFA said that 4,000 retailers nationwide have agreed to participate in the Aug. 13 Blackout Day by refusing to sell some dietary supplements entirely or by marketing them with "black dots, crepe-paper, black ribbons, or any other means." Ultimately, NNFA hopes that 7,500 retailers will participate in the "blackout." The "blackout" is intended to mobilize consumer support for the Hatch/Richardson bills by widely disseminating the industry's message that many products that consumers regularly purchase -- such as certain amino acids, herbals, enzymes, and single ingredient oils (including evening primrose extract) -- will no longer be available if FDA's June 18 dietary supplement proposal is effected ("The Tan Sheet" June 21, pp. 1-11). The Blackout Day will also serve as a means to publicize letter-writing and media campaigns through retailers. Included in the blackout kit are suggestions to retailers for setting up store displays and "legislative action tables," as well as "general themes" and "talking points" to respond to local media coverage of the event. Retailers are urged by the kit to sponsor seminars, town hall meetings and phone lines running directly to congressional representatives. In addition to NNFA, the New England Health Freedom Coalition, Health Forum of Utah, Metagenics/Ethical Nutrients, Citizens For Health (CFH), Nature's Way, the Nutritional Health Alliance (NHA) and Mrs. Gooches retail chain are participating in the Blackout Day campaign, which uses a dinosaur as the emblem of its slogan: "Don't Let Health Freedom Follow the Dinosaur." A Washington, D.C. "Industry Lobbying Day" is planned for Sept. 13, the day following the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore. Sponsored by NNFA, NHA, CFH, the New England Health Freedom Coalition, New Hope Communications, and magazines such as Natural Foods Merchandiser, Health Foods Business and Whole Foods, the event will provide participants with pre-arranged congressional meetings and lobbying kits "containing all necessary information" on S 784 and HR 1709. NNFA also plans to convene a Sept. 12 seminar to prepare industry participants for meetings with congressional staffers. To date, 100 people have agreed to participate in the lobbying event, NNFA estimated. Last year, the dietary supplements industry demonstrated its grass roots clout by effectively disrupting Capitol Hill offices during a mail and phone-in campaign in support of Sen. Hatch's supplement legislation and in opposition to an FDA enforcement bill supported by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). FDA and lawmakers have begun efforts to refute the industry's message regarding the agency's intentions for vitamins and other dietary supplements. Appearing at a July 29 hearing of Waxman's House Energy & Commerce/health subcommittee, Dingell criticized both sides of the supplements debate for resorting to "myths and exaggerations." As examples, Dingell said he is receiving messages by mail and phone that "FDA wants to ban supplements" and that the agency's proposal would require prescriptions for supplements. "This is absolutely not the case," Dingell declared. "Every fact available to me indicates that FDA is neither on a mission to destroy the nutritional supplement market, nor the industry" ("The Tan Sheet" Aug. 2, p. 6). To help disseminate its message, NNFA signed on public relations firm Porter Novelli at the end of July to: put together a bureau of speakers who will talk on behalf of the supplement industry; publish by-lined articles and op-ed pieces on dietary supplements; and organize coalition building, opinion research, media tours and press kits. Presently, NNFA is distributing a television commercial featuring actor Mel Gibson. Sponsored by the Health Freedom Task Force, a "grass roots effort of the entertainment industry," the 60-second TV spot encourages consumers to contact their congressional representatives to discourage a ban on dietary supplements. The commercial has been made available to retailers in time for the Blackout Day media campaign, NNFA said. Some retailers have purchased air time on local or cable TV stations, NNFA reported, adding that it is considering producing a second TV commercial featuring actor Ted Danson. In late July, NHA released two public service announcements narrated by actress Victoria Principal to approximately 400 TV and 10,000 radio stations. The 30-second spot tells listeners to: "Write your congressman today. Demand your right to maintain good health. Don't let the FDA lock your vitamins away." NHA said that it expects the grassroots campaign to generate 1 mil. letters to Congress.
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