Celebrities such as Pierce Brosnan, Katie Couric, Ariane Grande, and others who have lost family members to cancer helped last Friday’s Stand Up To Cancer telethon raise $109 million in pledges for cancer research.
Most of the coverage appeared where you would expect–in the celebrity press. Entertainment Tonight “was on the carpet at the star-studded event as celebs shared their personal and powerful stories.” But some national news organizations covered it, too. “The hour-long broadcast on Friday featured performances by The Who, Dave Matthews Band, Ariana Grande and a closing number by Jennifer Hudson, Common and Lupe Fiasco,” the Associated Press reported.
As far as I can tell, medical writers who cover cancer didn’t pay any attention to the telethon. And they missed a good story.
The celebrities who told tearful personal stories probably didn’t know that a portion of the money raised by Stand Up To Cancer has come from the manufacture, sale, and advertising of cigarettes.
Dr. Alan Blum, a family physician at the University of Alabama and long-time anti-smoking activist, called attention to the organization’s links to the tobacco industry in a September 9 opinion piece at Alabama.com, which publishes items from The Birmingham News and several other nearby papers.
Stand Up To Cancer “doesn’t seem to have given any consideration to the sponsors whose image is being burnished by their association with these fundraisers,” Blum told me in an interview. The “sponsors are doing more to promote cigarette companies than to prevent or cure cancer.”
One of Stand Up To Cancer’s donors, the multinational corporation Siemens, proudly promotes its medical equipment and healthcare products in newspapers and magazines. It is also, according to Blum “a leading manufacturer of cigarette-making machinery and barcode tracking technology for improved efficiency of cigarette distribution.”
The Safeway Foundation, another Stand Up To Cancer partner, is associated with Safeway supermarkets, which, unlike Target, CVS, and others, sell cigarettes in their more than 1,330 stores. The Steve Tisch Foundation, another partner, derived much of its income from a family-run corporation that controlled the cigarette maker Lorillard.
And four of the eight publishing partners of Stand Up To Cancer own magazines that advertise cigarettes, Blum said.
Why would an aggressive, anti-cancer foundation such as Stand Up To Cancer accept money from the tobacco industry or its partners?
Medical writers were not asking. But Blum had an answer. Companies such as Siemens have a choice, he said. “If you’re making health equipment, you don’t make cigarettes. Siemens and cigarettes have zero degrees of separation.”
Perhaps Stand Up To Cancer, a part of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, didn’t know about the tobacco connections. But Stand Up To Cancer collaborates with the American Cancer Society. Pierce Brosnan and Katie Couric might not know about the tobacco money, but the cancer society should have known–that’s its business.
Blum noted that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark Report on Smoking and Health. “It is shameful that the organizers of this cause would welcome the participation of manufacturers, promoters, and sellers of cigarettes,” Blum wrote.
I happen to agree with Blum–Stand Up To Cancer and other health-related organizations should not accept money from tobacco companies or their business partners. But that’s not the point.
The point here is that medical writers missed a good story. And if we don’t raise questions about these contributions, who will?