“Stand Up To Cancer” didn’t stand up to tobacco.

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.”

Tobacco is responsible for one in five deaths in the U.S. and about 30 percent of all cancer deaths. Should the money tobacco makes be used for cancer research?

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?

-Paul Raeburn

6 Replies to ““Stand Up To Cancer” didn’t stand up to tobacco.”

  1. Eric Solberg

    While I guess one could say it’s shameful that Stand Up to Cancer doesn’t know that some of their funding comes from the manufacture, marketing and sales of cigarettes, I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider that the “cancer cause” has become a money-making machine for more cancer research while using the hook of “hope” for a cure to lure their donations. A simple look across the various comprehensive cancer centers in the U.S. reveals the same message – that we’re on the verge of a cure (they’ve been saying this for more than two decades) followed by “click here to donate.” As you’ve pointed out, more than 30% of all cancer death could be prevented by taking tobacco out of the equation. Sadly, the cancer cause continues to be all about money (regardless of its source) for more and more research. A quick look at the latest financial statements from the American Cancer Society, with nearly $1 billion in revenue, makes me scratch my head and wonder why their not doing more on the tobacco issue. Even the endowments for faculty positions and department chairs at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (through the University of Texas’ endowment/investment management group), arguably the number one cancer center in the world, is still heavily invested in tobacco stocks. Perhaps they just see this as maintaining their growing business and bottom line. Certainly provides for good job security.

  2. Michael Balter

    “And if we don’t raise questions about these contributions, who will?”

    Indeed. And if Paul Raeburn and the rest of the Tracker contributors have been given the axe with no indication of whether they will be allowed to play a role in its new incarnation (if the Tracker does indeed end up having a new incarnation), who will raise these issues for their science journalism colleagues to ponder?

  3. Nelson Semino

    Well, (as Eric Solberg is pointing out,) perhaps their tactic is that any money is welcome despite the source.

    Perhaps the logic the “Stand Up To Cancer” campaign is that for those using tobacco; if they can’t help themselves neither will be a good, kind doctor be able to help them, “so at least grab their money”. I guess their motto will be something like; “You cannot help someone who does not want to be helped”?

    It is indeed repugnant such low moral values from at; “Stand Up To Cancer” and all the donor organizations that were involved.

    On the other hand it is blessing to have science journalists like Paul Raeburn ant the rest of the team at The Science Tracker.

    You all will be missed.

  4. Dr.K.SParthasarathy

    Dr. Richard Doll, an eminent British Physician once commented that 50% of all who smoke will die of it. In spite of a ban on cigarette advertising, more and more Indian youngsters are drawn to cigarettes.

    The present Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan means business. He is an ENT specialist and advocates strong measures against smoking in public places. He is drafting a law which will enhance the fine against public smoking from Rs 200 ($4) to 20,000 ($400)

    Anti smoking organizations must not accept donations from pro- tobacco lobbies.

  5. Eric Solberg

    Paul, I just want to echo what Michael Balter stated – if you and your colleagues don’t take the time to investigate and cover such stories, perhaps no one will. Thanks for your continued efforts to sort through important science and health issues.

  6. Jon Krueger

    And you’ll find Stand Up to Cancer rarely mentions tobacco or any cancer prevention. And never mentions the tobacco industry. Coincidence?

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