Breast Cancer Awareness: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Some things you just can’t make up.

A website is promoting breast cancer research through sales of its product. So far, so normal. But consider that the site, The Firearm Blog, “is dedicated to all things firearm related. If you are into AR-15 and AK carbines, skeet shotguns, self defense pistols or hunting rifles then there will be something here for you.”

And here’s the “good works” pitch: “DPMS have teamed up with Gun Broker to auction off a pink version of their Lite 16″ rifle. 100% of the proceeds with go towards Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization which supports breast cancer research.”

Does anyone see anything amiss about an effort to eradicate a disease that kills by promoting a product that kills?

The offer prompted some lively commentary from the site’s readers; well, “lively” is one way to put it:

  • “Perfect gun for a shoot-out at the Pepto-Bismal Corral.”
  • “Girls usually stop dressing all-pink before they’re 12, so what makes these manufacturers think that adult women would refuse to be seen in the woods without a pink gun and matching pink-shaded camo clothing?”
  • “If there’s any one organization that hopes they never cure Breast Cancer, it’s the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. These people make money off of every single pink item in the world. Who knew you could make money off of a color and a cause? … I think we should outlaw toy guns so that when children pick up a gun, they know it’s real. Even idiots deserve to live to voting age, apparently.”

Which brings us to the topic of when a cause becomes a joke. Has the breast cancer lobby undermined its honor by pinkifying the world so much that people stop paying attention?

Some people think so, and they are calling it “breast cancer pinkwashing.” As noted recently on MedPage Today, several media outlets suggested that the pink ribbon campaign has gone too far; that “pink ribbon fatigue” has set in, and when an arms dealer gets attention by painting a rifle pink, you have to wonder if they’re right.

“Pinkwashing” refers to commercial interests promoting breast cancer awareness while also profiting from pink-themed products. As noted in the Boston Globe last year, “The application of pink-in the name of raising money and steering women toward the radiologist’s office-does seem to get broader and cheerier each year. Now, we have NFL balls decorated with pink ribbons and world landmarks bathed in pink light, from the White House to the Ancient Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza.”

As Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, told MedPage, “At one time, pink was the means. Now, it’s almost become the end in itself. In its most simplistic forms, pink has become a distraction. You put a pink ribbon on it, people stop asking questions.”

Research is based on asking questions. Cures and treatments for dread diseases are based on research.

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 230,000 women will be diagnosed with and nearly 40,000 will die of breast cancer in 2011. Barbara Brenner, former executive director of Breast Cancer Action, once questioned all the money being raised during breast cancer awareness promotions. “If shopping could cure breast cancer,” she said, “it would be cured by now.”

Last year, KFC initiated a campaign to donate 50 cents to the Komen Foundation (the largest breast cancer foundation in the world) from every pinkwashed bucket of chicken sold. Now, fried chicken isn’t as lethal as a rifle, but given that obesity is a risk factor for the disease, does it strike you as an appropriate cross-promotion?

If you want to support businesses that do good works without selling out your health-promotion principles, Breast Cancer Action suggests you ask yourself these questions before spending your charitable dollars:

1. How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer? Is that amount clearly stated on the package?
2. What is the maximum amount a company will donate?
3. How are the funds being raised?
4. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?
5. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

There’s nothing wrong with wearing a pink ribbon or paying extra for a breast cancer postage stamp. But if colorizing the world prevents it from seeing clearly, it’s time to engage common sense in common cause.

Article first published as Breast Cancer Awareness: Too Much of a Good Thing? on Technorati.

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