Sunday, July 8, 2012

When ads go wrong: No one deserves to die

I get what the Lung Cancer Alliance is trying to do, but when I'm innocently reading a story online about Roger Federer winning his seventh Wimbledon title, I don't expect to be hit with an ad telling me that I deserve to die.

At first, I didn't quite register what I'd read, so I had to go back to the story and look at it again. Yes, it really does say "Crazy old aunts deserve to die." WTF???

Clicking on the ad didn't provide much in the way of answers, either. I landed on this page:

which is a scrolling list of other people who also deserve to die. 

At no point is it clear that this is a statement that no one deserves lung cancer. We're supposed to infer this from the fact that it's the Lung Cancer Alliance's website, apparently. Again, I support the message that they're rather clumsily trying to get across. My mother-in-law never smoked a day in her life and she died from lung cancer; my best friend's dad was a two-pack-a-day man, and he died from lung cancer, too. Neither of them deserved it.

We in the heart disease community get this all the time. "Oh you have heart disease? Well no sympathy for YOU; you obviously brought it on yourself!" 

Which is no doubt one of the reasons why corporations fall all over themselves going pink for breast cancer awareness but wouldn't ever consider going red for heart disease awareness. Breast cancer is a tragedy; heart disease is just desserts for a decadent lifestyle, a flock of schadenfreude-laden pigeons coming home to roost.

After all, if eighty percent of heart disease is preventable, and you get it anyway, then clearly it's your own fault and you have no self-discipline or self-respect, you fat, lazy slob, you. Put down the doughnuts and go walk a mile or two, you fatty fatso.  It's so obvious, simple, and easy. You don't need help or sympathy or an awareness campaign; just eat less, exercise more--which is clearly working for a majority of us.

So yes, I'm firmly behind any campaign that attempts to erase the stigma of disease and that focuses on compassionate, supportive treatment, not finger-pointing. But what the Lung Cancer Alliance campaign is doing instead is a muddled, failed PR move that's alienating everyone--hipsters, cat people, crazy aunts, smug people, all people.

Bottom line: no one deserves to die.  

Edit: According to Lung Cancer Alliance President Laurie Fenton Ambrose, quoted in this New York Times piece, "Smoking 'is a risk factor' for lung cancer, Ms. Fenton Ambrose acknowledges, but so, too, is it a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
'But you’ve never heard anyone say, "You smoked, didn’t you?" to someone who’s had a heart attack or stroke.'" 
All I can say to that is, she must not know any heart attack or stroke survivors.

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