Breast Cancer Activists 'Seeing Red' Over Pink Ribbons

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - A group of breast cancer activists is urging consumers to "Think Before You Pink" when supporting products and promotions with pink ribbons during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, a health-care analyst charged that the only ones "seeing red" over pink ribbons are "a handful of angry, socialist women."

"Consumers deserve to know how -- if at all -- their pink ribbon purchases and participation in pink ribbon promotions will support ending the breast cancer epidemic," said Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action (BCA), in a news release.

"Companies with pink ribbon marketing campaigns need to be more transparent and accountable to people who buy their products," Brenner added as the BCA launched its 2006 Think Before You Pink campaign on Sept. 26 by urging consumers to ask critical questions before purchasing any items or taking part in any campaigns.

This year, the BCA is stressing concerns regarding "what the company is doing to ensure its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic" and "the amount of money being donated to breast cancer compared to the amount being spent on marketing."

To help consumers in making their selections, the Think Before You Pink website contains the "Parade of Pink," which lists some of the hundreds of pink ribbon products and promotions on the market from such companies as Estee Lauder, BMW and clothing manufacturer Ralph Lauren.

For example, the site states that "Estee Lauder will donate $100,000 from the sale of Pure Color Crystal Lipstick in Elizabeth Pink to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer."

However, "the company refuses to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics to ensure that its products do not contain chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer," the website adds. "Currently, Estee Lauder products still contain parabens, a class of chemicals linked to breast cancer."

As part of its Ultimate Drive campaign, BMW donates $1 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for every mile anyone test-drives a vehicle from retail outlets in hundreds of cities across the U.S.

But the website notes that "components of car exhaust (known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs) have been linked to breast cancer and other illnesses."

Also, "Ralph Lauren has launched a line of Pink Pony products to benefit the breast cancer cause, telling consumers that 'a portion of the proceeds from all Pink Pony products benefits the Pink Pony Fund for Cancer Care and Prevention,'" the site states.

"From this limited information, it is impossible for the consumer to know how much money from the purchase actually goes to the cause," according to the website.

The site concludes that "breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns: companies try to reinforce their image and boost their bottom line by connecting themselves with a good cause."

However, Robert Goldberg, vice president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, stated that the only ones "seeing red over pink ribbons" are "a handful of angry, socialist women."

"Why is helping to rid the world of a disease or some problem a bad thing for a company to do?" Goldberg asked Cybercast News Service. "These people are imposing a politically correct litmus test on what is essentially a good deed.

"No one seems to mind when companies post 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," he added.

Critics of corporate involvement "seem to be more concerned about making sure that resources are raised in a politically correct fashion and use shopping to mitigate the social consequences of capitalism than in curing breast cancer," Goldberg said.

The problem is that these activists "make noise, and they get picked up by other people in the media as sort of a cause celebre," he stated. "They represent a larger phenomenon that says: 'If you don't do things without profit, then you're no good.'"

One of the most harshly criticized companies is Avon, a cosmetics manufacturer that hosts its own events to raise money for research, even though "they give money to develop genetic tests to predict who will have breast cancer and who won't, which will allow for early treatment," Goldberg said.

"Why don't these people go pick on Ben & Jerry's?" he asked. "Eating their ice cream, which is full of fat, causes high cholesterol and heart disease, but no one criticizes Ben & Jerry's for giving their money to socialist and left-wing causes."

Goldberg also said that organizations like BCA are too quick to declare that certain chemicals or processes are definitely connected to instances of breast cancer.

"You can probably go down a litany of things that you can say cause breast cancer or are linked to it, but it's such a loose read," he noted. "I think the whole group of critics believes that, in the end, capitalism causes breast cancer."

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