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Panty Raid

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Florence Booth House, Toronto

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Champagne with Potato Chips?

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News & Events

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42% of Canadians struggle with basic reading and writing. The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) (1995;2003) shows strong links among literacy skills, employment and poverty, and thus health...

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Think Before You Go Pink

The Breast Cancer Action (BCA) group wants consumers to think about how much money is actually going to the “cure” before purchasing something with a little pink ribbon on it...

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Think Before You Go Pink



The Breast Cancer Action (BCA) group wants consumers to think about how much money is actually going to the “cure” before purchasing something with a little pink ribbon on it.

Formed in 1990 and based in San Francisco, California, BCA is a grassroots group of ordinary people who, by educating themselves on the facts and the issues related to breast cancer, have empowered themselves and others to create needed change.

In 2002, BCA urged consumers to ask vital questions before supporting pink ribbon marketing campaigns, suggesting that not as much money goes into breast cancer research as the shopper thinks, and that the “think pink” slogans are a mere advertising strategy to help consumers feel better (and less guilty) about spending more money. They backed up their accusations and ran an ad in the New York Times exposing the vacuum company Eureka, who had donated less than 1% from the sale of its "Clean for the Cure" vacuum, and the credit card company American Express, who had donated a meager penny per transaction of any amount spent during its "Charge for the Cure" campaign. American Express claimed, “For every purchase you make from October 1 through October 31, 2002, [we] will make a donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.” (Do you notice how there is zero information about how much money is actually donated?)

There are companies that do donate sizable portions of their sales to breast cancer research. KitchenAid Canada states that “with every purchase of a KitchenAid Pink Limited Edition Artisan Series Stand Mixer, KitchenAid Canada will make a $100 donation to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.” I see this as considerable, taking into account there are $1 donations that result from purchasing a car!

Since 1990, BCA has celebrated its 15th anniversary and embarked on numerous awareness ventures, one calling for the removal of harmful chemicals found in common cosmetics products such as AVON, Estée Lauder, Revlon, and Mary Kay. BCA maintains that "these four cosmetic companies have positioned themselves as leaders in the fight against breast cancer while marketing products that contain harmful chemicals. Avon and Estee Lauder have taken an important first step by pledging to remove dibutyl phthalates from their products. Revlon and Mary Kay have not yet responded to the public’s request to make their products safer." On BCA's website, consumers are able to send an email to these companies urging them to remove harmful chemical ingrediants in their products (BCA even provides the text of the email!).

Do it for the Cure!

Barbara Brenner, executive director of BCA, questions why we don’t have a cure yet, when we can: “Clean for the cure” (vacuums),“Charge for the cure” (AMEX),“Cook for the cure” (Kitchen Aid), or “Shop for the cure” (numerous marketing campaigns such as Estée Lauder, Clinique, www.cancersocietystore.com, and the Running Room’s pink ribbon line).

BCA’s website lists the “overwhelming number of pink ribbon marketing campaigns currently in existence” and declares how much of each purchase actually contributes to research and which breast cancer research foundation it goes to. (However, it does not go into any detail on existing exclusive Canadian pink ribbon marketing campaigns.)

Brenner also suggests that people can really make a difference by engaging in education: asking questions, learning about pre-emptive strategies for cancer prevention, thinking critically about pink campaigns, and taking positive action.

Critical Pink Thinking

I not only encourage you to think critically about how much money is actually going towards a “cure,” but also what certain companies are doing to be proactive toward prevention and education surrounding breast cancer.

BCA’s website states: “Many companies that raise funds for breast cancer also make products that may be contributing to the epidemic." Golf tournament promotions where the course is sprayed with pesticides; car companies that donate money while their cars contribute to pollution; and cosmetic companies whose products contain poisonous chemicals that are allied with breast cancer are all examples of case in point that it is important to ask questions about companies proclaiming that they are “supporting the cause.” It is also an illustration of how important it is that we consumers and advocates ask about how much money actually goes toward breast cancer.

Other questions that we as consumers need to keep in mind and think about before we buy pink are
* What percentage of the purchase price does this represent?
* What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
* How much money was spent marketing the product?
* To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?

My Personal Position on Pink

Given that breast cancer is diagnosed at epidemic rates for Canadian women and that we are at the forefront of a milestone in breast cancer research, I see this as an essential time for women to ask more questions, educate themselves more, and support overall efforts similar to Breast Cancer Action’s campaign.

Everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer. Three members of my mother-in-law’s family have battled breast cancer; two of them survived. My father’s sister lost her battle with breast cancer in 2003. Statistics show that 38% of Canadian women will develop cancer during their lifetimes (one in three women); one in nine is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime; one in 27 women will die from it (The Canadian Cancer Society).

One great thing about pink ribbon advertising campaigns in general (even if marketing is their exclusive goal) is that it makes cancer visible and increases the awareness that breast cancer does involve everyone in some way or another. I agree that it’s wrong how some companies donate parsimonious amounts to finding a cure; however, if there is a silver lining to this cloud, it is bringing visibility to the disease. My advice is to educate yourselves on factors that influence cancer and keep running, walking, hoping, and praying for a cure. If you have a desire to go pink, then at the very least, think about it first.

As a frequent “pink ribbon” purchaser, I appreciated learning more about which companies are really “buying into” the honest and generous contributions to breast cancer research foundations. I think there is an opportunity for companies to donate and really work toward finding a cure. Let’s let the ones who are not so seriously committed to this know it— by becoming educated and thinking before we pink! This may include not buying products from some of these companies, or perhaps purchasing more from those companies which truly do want to contribute to breast cancer research and who give substantial amounts to the cause.