Smoke Pink Cigarettes, or Die of Breast Cancer

A well-deserved shot at corporate pink ribbon campaigns.

Lest you think the satire is a little harsh, or if you get warm fuzzies donating to pink ribbon campaigns, consider that corporations jumped all over pink ribbon campaigns not just because of their intrinsic worth, but more importantly, because it’s a “safe”, non-controversial issue, and more to generate profits. Think Before You Pink, an advocacy website, makes a necessary corrective:

She and the Times agree on the source of the disease’s peculiar popularity in corporate America. It is a quality that the breast cancer awareness ribbon both captures and enables. “Companies want to support breast cancer,” Cone says simply. “Breast cancer is safe.”

Unlike AIDS, breast cancer is free of what companies euphemistically call “lifestyle issues.” And, perhaps as importantly, breast cancer provides charitable credentials for what can be a very small investment. With the ribbon’s message of ”awareness” translating most often into a familiarity with early detection techniques, all a company has to do, to do good, is put a ribbon on its merchandise.

New Balance, for example, donates money from the sale of its Race for the Cure caps, socks and T-shirts to the Komen Foundation, but its pink ribbon sneakers, a Foundation spokesperson says, are ”just for awareness.” The sneakers have the tiny pale-pink outline of a ribbon sewn onto the corner of their tongues—difficult if not impossible for anyone except the owner to see. The possibility that those two wan loops might remind woman to get the mammogram that saves her life, however, provides the sneakers with their raison d’étre.

It is this dynamic that drives the pink ribbon’s detractors to distraction. “There is a value to awareness, but awareness of what, and to what end?” asks Barbara Brenner, activist and executive director of Breast Cancer Action (BCA) in San Francisco. “We need changes in the direction the research is going, we need access to care—beyond mammograms—we need to know what is causing the disease, and we need a cure. The pink ribbon is not indicative of any of that.”

Check out the website’s list of questions to consider before buying pink.

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  1. #1 by Jennifer on Monday 29 November 2010 - 0934

    Actually, breast cancer is not free of lifestyle issues. Obesity is a major risk factor as is excessive alcohol consumption.

    However, I agree with all the pink. Breast cancer is not a more important disease.

  2. #2 by Jenn Jilks on Monday 29 November 2010 - 0956

    Have you done research on mammograms? Their failure rates are interesting.
    Plus, we don’t know how many false positives there are, while women have mastectomies, and ensure that they do not die of breast cancer!
    As many die of all cancers as of cardiovascular issues.
    The Pink Ribbon, Inc., machine pisses me off!

    Good post.

  3. #3 by leigh on Monday 29 November 2010 - 1032

    Too much importance is given to mammograms with the result that women often ignore current medical opinion and have annual mammos too early when there is a much higher risk of false negatives and false positives. There’s also little evidence about how long DCIS takes to progress, so does finding the cancer sooner using screening mammography increase life expectancy or just increase early detection rates? Before screening mammos DCIS was pretty much unknown so there are no comparison figures. The result is that women live with being a breast cancer patient 10 years or so earlier than they would have done otherwise. There is still no evidence that mammography screening has any benefits.

    I’ve always disliked the smug holier than though approach of the pink campaign and the money poured into one disease. Screening PSA tests for men are not supported by the health services in Canada or the UK as there is little evidence of benefit and yet a whole industry was set up for breast cancer screening, I’m glad to see awareness of other diseases is being raised,ie prostate cancer, testicular cancer.

    Big business latches onto something with a feel good factor and supports it. Who’da thunk?
    Plus they get to photograph young women in tight t-shirt and fancy bras.

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