Seeing Red over Pink Ribbons

  • by: |
  • 10/11/2006
It is hard not to miss the mass of pink products and pink ribbon promotions, this month being Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Pink ribbons being the symbol of the quest to treat and cure breast cancer in case anyone has been sleeping the past decade.)

Several corporations are and have allocated a share of the sales of their products to specific breast cancer screening or research activities as part of this effort or as part of a particular company's effort to be socially responsible. No one seems to mind when company's past some sort of eco-friendly sign on their packaging but apparently the idea that capitalist concerns would link the marketing of their products to supporting better cancer care for women is driving a handful of angry, socialist women types crazy.

They argue that corporations are "getting rich" by promoting breast cancer awareness and research. The case rests on one or two isolated cases where the amount to be contributed to a particular organization was not made clear or by comparing marketing costs (for the product in general) to the actual contribution.

Now excuse me, but what is wrong about using a campaign to rid the world of disease or some problem a bad thing for a company to do? When the National Campaign to End Infantile Paralysis (polio) started the March of Dimes Campaign it used tie ins galore and even got then President Roosevelt to hawk products that we donating a share of its proceeds to the effort. And no one seems to give a rip when Ben and Jerry's donates a share of its profits to eliminating low self-esteem issues working in left wing NGOs or Paul Newman kicks in part of his pasta sauce proceeds to his camp for kids dyiing of cancer. And in both cases, people probably buy the products to support the cause. I bought a particular type of matzah for Passover because a share of the dough (unleavened) went to support the Jewish National Fund.

But when some corporations decide to sponsor and promote their sponsorship of breast cancer activities, that is getting rich. The alternative I guess, if you read the bitter and disjointed screeds of the critics, is to have companies do nothing or, more precisely, contribute to their pet projects. In the case of breast cancer, it would be to fund massive studies and lawsuits about the role every food additive and greenhouse gas plays in triggering cancer instead of the effort to support treatments which just enrich drug companies anyway.

The way to deal with fringe elements in all these cases is to take the extreme thinking to its logical conclusion: when you do, you are confronted with a group of people who would rather women be denied better care in order to have their worldview adopted. (Of course they would have the government do it all with higher taxes..just like in Canada where the screening and awareness levels are lower than here). Given the choice between no corporate involvement and corporate involvement along with the funding for a variety of programs that promote early detection, treatment and research, the fringe groups attacking the pink ribbon programs would take a victory over "getting rich" any time.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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