We care about cancer. We want our families and communities to be protected from cancer as much as possible. And we want our governments to take action for cancer prevention and control.
But the alcohol industry wants the opposite: they want to keep people in the dark about the fact that their products cause cancer. And they want to exploit breast cancer awareness to look good and sell more of the products.
In this blog post Runa and Therese shed light on a fundamental conflict of interest. And they discuss how political leaders can raise awareness that alcohol causes cancer and better promote public health.

By Runa Annasdotter Neely & Therese Åkerhielm

Cancer has a profound effect on people around the world. Most of us deeply care about cancer. For example, a recent global survey showed that over three in five people say they have been affected by cancer, through their own personal experience or through knowing someone who has had the disease. And a vast majority of people surveyed (84%) express their wish that governments do need to take action on cancer.

We care about cancer. We want our families and communities to be protected from cancer as much as possible. And we want our governments to take action for cancer prevention and control. We want to enjoy good health and live in healthy environments with our loved ones.

But there is one problem:

For every purchased pack of cigarette, we will donate 10% of net sales to the Foundation For Lung Cancer. Get your pack of cigarettes now a join the fight against lung cancer!”

… wait, what? 

Tobacco causes lung cancer – we all know that. The idea of buying tobacco in support of lung cancer research is absolutely ludicrous. Yet, change the words “cigarettes” to “alcohol”, and the word “lung cancer” to “breast cancer”, and far fewer people would react – even though this is exactly the same thing.

‘Drink cancer. Prevent cancer.’ How alcohol companies fuel and exploit lack of awareness

That’s the problem: Alcohol is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer in women, but this hasn’t stopped the alcohol industry from profiting from breast cancer awareness campaigns.

Whether it be a mom, a sister, a friend, or ourselves, breast cancer affects so many of us. Breast cancer is the single most common type of cancer in women, and as October transitions into November, all the pink products in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month are slowly disappearing again like leaves on autumn trees.

But for the past month, wherever we looked, we saw companies decorating all out in pink in support of breast cancer research, treatment and prevention. The alcohol industry was not late to jump on the “pink-washing” band wagon by slapping a pink ribbon on their products or sponsoring events.

But there is one important detail that the alcohol industry “forget” to mention:

Their own products cause breast cancer!

The data is rock solid, and has been for decades. In 1988, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified alcohol as Group 1 human carcinogen, meaning that it is certain that alcohol is causes cancer in humans. Alcohol causes at least seven different types of cancer, including breast cancer. 

If this was established over thirty years ago, why don’t more people know about it?

There is a billion-dollar industry that earns huge profits by keeping this information in the dark. The alcohol industry has misled the public about alcohol and cancer for decades, and sought to undermine science, hinder evidence-based policy measures and put profits over people – just like the tobacco industry did with cigarettes and cancer.

Alcohol companies and their front groups strategically exploit this unawareness to gain profits and at the same time get a pat on the back for being a “company that cares” by tainting their products pink.

Warn and protect people. Promote health

While the alcohol industry needs to be held accountable for the harmful products and practices that hurt people and keep consumers in the dark, there are concrete actions we can take today to increase awareness about the relationship between alcohol and cancer. One such solution is health warning labelling. The WHO recommends warning labels on alcoholic beverages as an effective way of raising awareness.

Warning labels on products that are harmful for us aren’t new by any means. Health warning labels on tobacco packages have been a global success story. Well-designed warnings have decreased tobacco use and increased awareness of the health effects. 

Also, warning labels would put an end to the alcohol industry’s exploitation of the breast cancer awareness movement. Just imagine this: the alcohol industry selling pink tainted products under the guise of raising money for breast cancer research, but the products are labeled (you guessed it!): “Alcohol Causes Breast Cancer”. 

We have a fundamental right to lead healthy lives and live in healthy environments. We want to be protected from cancer-causing substances. It’s time our political leaders took action against the alcohol industry’s deceptive marketing strategies, such as pink-washing, and for cancer prevention through alcohol policy.

For further reading

UICC: International Public Opinion Survey on Cancer 2020. What people feel, think and believe about cancer today. Understanding the beliefs, views and attitudes of 15,000 people across 20 countries