Monday, May 16, 2016

American Lung Association and CVS Health Campaign Downplays the Importance of Smoking in Preventing Lung Cancer

Ad Looks Like Big Tobacco Ad from the 20th Century 

The American Lung Association (ALA), with primary financial support from CVS Health (CVS), has initiated a campaign called "Lung Force." The campaign features a video ad with the theme of "Anyone Can Get Lung Cancer." Although the ad cites the fact that lung cancer incidence among women has increased over the past decades and mentions radon and air pollution as causes, nowhere in the ad is smoking even mentioned.

I went to the Lung Force fact sheet on lung cancer and found that the #1 most important fact is as follows:

"1. Anyone can get lung cancer."

If you click on the link to get more information, it brings you to the video ad with the theme of "Anyone Can Get Lung Cancer" which doesn't mention smoking.

In a detailed sheet which summarizes the campaign, there is not a single mention of the importance of smoking as a cause of the increasing incidence of lung cancer among women, even though the sheet emphasizes how important it is to get out all the facts and educate women about the "basics" and even though the sheet mentions air pollution, radon, family history, and secondhand smoke as risk factors.

And in a detailed summary of the Lung Force campaign, it again fails to mention smoking. Instead, it de-emphasizes smoking by hiding the fact that smoking is overwhelming the chief cause of lung cancer among women. In fact, it appears that the main objective of the campaign is to downplay the role of smoking in causing lung cancer among women:

"We aim to change people’s minds about what it means to have lung cancer—so that everyone understands that anyone can get lung cancer."

In a long video about lung cancer featuring numerous lung cancer survivors, smoking is not mentioned a single time, other than in an attempt to suggest that smoking is not as important a risk factor for lung cancer as previously thought.

In fact, the campaign actively suppresses the sharing of the fact that smoking is overwhelmingly the leading cause of lung cancer. For example, in presenting Kellie Pickler's involvement in the campaign, sparked by the death of her grandmother from lung cancer, it fails to mention the important fact that her grandmother was a long-term smoker.

The Rest of the Story

I'm not sure that I can overstate my level of condemnation of this campaign. It is disturbing, and it is damaging. It undermines decades of education about the severe health hazards of smoking and about the role of smoking as the overwhelming most predominant cause of lung cancer. About 90% of the suffering that the campaign highlights could be prevented if we made smoking history. But instead, the campaign talks about air pollution, which only causes about 1% (at the most) of lung cancer.

The campaign's theme, and the video ad, look like a Big Tobacco campaign from the 20th century, downplaying the role of smoking in lung cancer by emphasizing that "anyone" can get lung cancer. I'm not sure the tobacco industry itself could have done a better job of downplaying the role of its products in the devastating lung cancer epidemic. 

Moreover, not only does the campaign fail to mention smoking as a leading cause of lung cancer and not only does it downplay the role of smoking, but it actively tries to confuse women about the role of smoking. By emphasizing that most lung cancer is diagnosed in nonsmokers and omitting the important fact that most of these women are former smokers, it appears to be intentionally trying to get women to think that smoking is not the predominant cause of lung cancer. Furthermore, it does not once mention the role that the tobacco industry played in the epidemic of lung cancer among women.

The tobacco industry should really send a thank-you note to the Lung Force campaign for running a public awareness campaign that downplays the role of smoking in a way that even Big Tobacco would not do, and is not doing, in the 21st century.

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