Anyone who believes that individuals can't make a difference in public policy should take a look at Linda Lazarides.
This diminutive, soft spoken and seemingly self effacing woman is founder and secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Nutritional Therapy. The organization, composed of 600 people interested in nutritional therapy doctors, nurses, therapists and alternative practitioners was intended purely as an educational body to promote the idea of diet and supplements in healing.Lately, however, Ms Lazarides and her colleagues have turned into the front line operation indeed, the only operation opposing the forthcoming EC directive on dietary supplements. This directive calls for British practitioners, consumers, retailers and manufacturers to "harmonize" with the rest of Europe, where supplements are classed as drugs unless the dosage is very small. In many countries in Europe, you need a prescription to get supplements at doses higher than the country's equivalent of the recommended daily allowance. Some British products could actually be banned.
Ms Lazarides, who practices nutritional therapy, galvanized her 600 members and any other friends they could enlist to badger members of Parliament with letter after letter protesting against the directive.
Largely as a result of the relentless pressure of the SPNT, the EC proposal has been delayed twice. Basil Mathioudakis, the EC Commission official who will draft the proposal, was quoted as saying that there is "too much political uncertainty" about it at the moment. SPNT will continue to apply pressure until the directive is published in February.
There is a lesson to be learned here about political tactics. Instead of arguing about something low on the political agenda, like health, Lazarides and co talked about something the government could get genuinely worried about: the effect on the nation's pocketbook.
They drew chilling pictures of how drug regulations with their expensive testing procedures would kill Britain's present competitive advantage. They raised the spectre of European interference in British economic affairs, until MPs, seeing no benefit for Britain in the proposal, began to get scared.
Maybe other issues like injury from vaccine or drugs would be taken seriously by the people who make the laws if we were to remind them about how much, in terms of lawsuits, hospitalization and the like, this is going to cost them.