Enough already with pink products

by Jim Longworth

Enough already with pink products

I’m of the opinion that you can never do too much to increase awareness for early detection of breast cancer. I feel the same way about publicizing cystic fibrosis, MS and many other diseases. After all, any public call to action can help to save lives, or at least improve quality of life for patients. Unfortunately we are now faced with a proliferation of symbols, products and events which serve to diminish and even confuse the initiatives of various causes.

For example, after a brief bit of Google work, I discovered that there are dozens of different color ribbons representing multiple causes per color. A yellow ribbon can mean support for our troops, or awareness of bone cancer, or suicide prevention. A blue ribbon can commemorate everything from child abuse and chronic fatigue syndrome to bullying and colon cancer. I found 10 different diseases or social causes that use purple ribbons as their symbol, and the list goes on. It’s almost impossible for the public to keep up with what ribbon goes with what cause, and by having a ribbon for everything on Earth, we make each ribbon less special. Still, public awareness, no matter how diluted, is one thing, but commercialization is quite another, and that brings me to the very pink war on breast cancer.

In addition to pink ribbons, there are pink pendants, pink kitchen mixers, pink knives, pink hair dryers, pink toilet-paper products, pink wine bottles, cosmetics in pink bottles and fried chicken in pink buckets. Up in Seattle you can even buy a pink handgun that’s been approved by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. But I reached my tipping point last week when I happened to see a TV commercial for an energy drink. The beautiful spokesperson was dressed in pink, the background was pink and the energy drink bottle was pink. Aside from pink overkill, the problem I had with that particular commercial is that the FDA had just come out with a report saying energy drinks can be dangerous. Case in point, a 14-year-old Maryland girl who died in October from consuming a Monster energy drink.

In fact, a number of companies whose products are unhealthy or are that are even linked to cancer, are actually using breast-cancer awareness campaigns to market those products. Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, refers to these kinds of companies as “pinkwashers.” Brenner, along with a host of physicians and cancer patients, appear in a documentary titled Pink Ribbons, Inc in which they criticize corporations for profiting from the sale of cancer-causing products, while raising money for breast-cancer awareness.

General Mills, maker of Yoplait yogurt, for example, has been a long time supporter of Susan G. Komen’s campaign to find a cure for breast cancer. The problem is that for years Yoplait used bovine growth hormones in its yogurt, and BGH is linked to cancer. In 2010, Brenner’s organization exposed the health risk and put pressure on General Mills to stop using BGH. Today, Yoplait is BGH-free. Unfortunately, such activism hasn’t stopped all pinkwashers from using cancer-causing ingredients in the products they hawk at pink events, and in the name of pink fundraising.

According  to the documentary, some cosmetic  companies who support finding a cure for breast cancer still use chemicals in their perfumes which have been linked to cancer. And auto manufacturers who help raise money for breast-cancer research, have yet to stop exposing their female employees to soluble metal fluids which are toxic.

And while Brenner and others are working to expose hypocritical companies for hawking dangerous products in the name of finding a cure for breast cancer, they also have a problem with the kind of research which is funded by the sale of pinkwashing products and numerous pink events. The documentary points out that of all money raised for breast cancer research, only 15 percent goes to research on prevention, and only 5 percent goes to studying environmental causes of breast cancer. They also conclude that “uncoordinated spending means overlapping studies and huge gaps in research.” Dr. Susan Love also suggests that little progress has been made in the fight against breast cancer, even though billions of dollars have been raised for research. One can hardly argue with the criticisms of these and other doctors when, as the documentary points out, in the 1940s women had a 1-in-22 chance of getting breast cancer, but today, that risk has increased to more than 1 in 8.

These days, there’s so much pink around us, it’s hard to know which pink product to buy. Perhaps I’ll purchase one of those Komen pink handguns. Of course, there’s no assurance that the money raised will actually get us any closer to a cure for breast cancer, but if anything will help save lives, I’m certain a gun will.

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).