By Jonathan Purtle
According to the alliance, $231 million was spent on lung cancer research compared to $354 million for colon, $378 million for prostate, and over $1 billion for breast cancer in fiscal year 2012. While not overt, the subtext in these materials is that the funding disparities are the result of lung cancer being perceived as a self-inflicted cancer, and that those who develop it are not considered worthy of federal research dollars.
The fact that nearly one in five people who develop lung cancer have never smoked, perhaps the campaign's most compelling fact, is not even a prominent feature. It is not stated on any of the ads I've seen on walls or the web, and is available only to the über curious individual (i.e., a public health blogger) through a fact sheet online.
How about the alliance's suggestion that lung cancer research is underfunded because people with the disease are not perceived as being worthy of precious research dollars? Perhaps. History has shown that politics, advocacy, and ideology, not data, often shape funding decisions. Still, we know more about what raises the risk for lung cancer (smoking) than probably any other cancer. So it makes sense that funding would be directed toward research on the causes of other common cancers about which we know less.
To be sure, people with lung cancer do not deserve to die, be stigmatized, or treated with any less empathy than those with another condition. Nevertheless, I believe that the No One Deserves to Die campaign misses the mark. The ads are unclear, unpersuasive, and insensitive to the cat lovers, tattooed people, and other archetypes that are used to deliver the message. There is already too much hatred in America, without posters proclaiming that people "deserve to die" plastered all over public spaces.
That said, the campaign had enough shock value to get me to write about it — and to promote its message as a result. Is that a good thing?