Exposing Alcohol ‘Pinkwashing’ Ads May Lead to More Awareness of Breast Cancer-Alcohol Link

It’s not uncommon to see a brand use pink ribbon packaging or advertisements to promote breast cancer awareness or breast cancer organizations. When brands do this despite making products known to increase breast cancer risk, it’s often called pinkwashing. One product known to increase risk is alcohol, with the World Health Organization saying it’s responsible for 7% of cases in Europe. Researchers recently investigated pinkwashing among alcohol brands, finding that consumers are usually not aware that brands’ products impact breast cancer risk.

Research recently published in the journal Addictive Behaviors had more than 600 Americans either view three pinkwashed ads from beer, wine, and liquor companies or standard ads from these companies. Afterward, the participants were asked their viewpoints on the brands and how healthy they perceived them to be.

Breast cancer awareness ribbon

Dr. Marissa Hall, first author and assistant professor of health behavior at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, says, “Somewhere between 5-16% of breast cancers in the United States are attributable to alcohol. So, it’s surprising that alcohol is sometimes marketed in conjunction with breast cancer charities. Understanding how consumers are reacting to this kind of marketing felt like an important research gap for us to fill, especially given rising rates of alcohol use among women in the U.S.”

After consumers viewed the advertisements, the team found that while there was no impact on a person’s decision to buy based on pink ribbon content, there was also no difference in whether or not the viewer understood alcohol’s link with breast cancer. In fact, the team says less than half of participants believed there was such a risk after watching the ads, and participants were apt to think brands were healthier if they watched the pinkwashed ads. They also thought more highly of the brands.

However, when participants were informed about the breast cancer-alcohol link, they felt the ads were misleading and that there should be health warnings on the products’ labels. This, the researchers say, shows that “exposing” pinkwashing may be beneficial, possibly leading to reduced alcohol consumption and more support for these labels.

Aerial view of beer glass

Dr. Anna Grummon, senior author and assistant professor at Stanford University, says, “Overall, our findings suggest that exposing the industry practice of pinkwashing could help consumers recognize and disregard this type of advertising. Policies like health warning labels could also ensure consumers are not misled about the link between alcohol and breast cancer risk.”

The team also says further research is needed on why there’s a lack of awareness of the link between alcohol and breast cancer risk, whether it’s misleading advertising or a lack of public health messaging.

Provide Mammograms

Support those fighting Breast Cancer at The Breast Cancer Site for free!