No one on Facebook could have missed it – a rash of status reports saying “black,” “beige,” “nude,” “white (ho-hum),” and even “green with pink rosebuds.” “Not telling,” said one friend.
What was that about? Well, somebody somewhere had fired off a message to a group of women friends asking them to post the color of their bra in their status box, all in the name of breast cancer awareness and support for medical research, and the whole thing went viral.
How this might have raised breast cancer awareness or promoted medical research – who knows? The point is, probably tens or hundreds of thousands of women showed they were ready and willing to stand up and be counted. And many show it on an ongoing basis, in far more tangible ways, by paying a surcharge on pink-ribbon postage stamps and other items to help fund breast cancer research.
Not for one second do I begrudge the advocates of breast cancer research their success in gaining support for their cause. Like most, I have seen in my own circle of friends the suffering and devastation that breast cancer can cause in the lives of women.
But did you know that lung cancer, not breast cancer, is the leading cause of cancer death in women? Nearly twice as many women die from lung cancer as from breast cancer.
We can stop this epidemic – one woman at a time. Lung cancer deaths among women have increased by 600 percent since 1950, closely tracking the increase in smoking among women a few decades earlier. What goes up can come down. But despite improvements in survival rates, don’t look for advances in biomedical research to solve the problem. The real answer lies in prevention – by discouraging girls from starting to smoke and by encouraging women who already smoke to quit and stay quit.
For many women, cigarettes are a way of controlling weight and staving off depression. My goal, in writing Life After Cigarettes, was to help you identify better ways to look and feel great, not to try to scare you into quitting. But occasionally it’s salutary to pause and reflect on the health risks the tobacco industry has inflicted on us. The next time you see the ubiquitous pink ribbon promoting breast cancer awareness, imagine it paired with a brown tobacco-awareness ribbon and remember the twin scourges these symbols represent.
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.