YAKIMA — The Yakima Health District had second thoughts on Friday about bringing a controversial colon cancer awareness campaign to the Tri-Cities after local health board members reversed their support for the campaign.
"When we found out the Benton Franklin Board of Health said they were not supportive, we immediately made the decision to stop," said Dennis Klukan, Yakima Health District administrator. "It is never our intent to do something not fully supported by the local board of health."
The campaign consists of billboard advertisements showing people with pained expressions and the phrase, "What's up your butt?"
It's designed to be an in-your-face way of raising awareness about the dangers of colorectal cancers and the need for people to get screened for the disease.
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The six Benton Franklin health board members -- who also are the Benton and Franklin county commissioners -- voted unanimously Wednesday to allow the local health district's name to appear on the billboards after viewing a presentation that included pictures of the ads.
But after getting some negative feedback from the public Thursday following a Herald story, board Chairman Jim Beaver, a Benton County commissioner, decided he didn't want the district's name on the ads after all.
The other five commissioners reportedly agreed via emailed correspondence with Dr. Larry Jecha, bicounty health officer.
Jecha had requested the health board's support for the campaign because the local health district lacks funds for an awareness campaign of its own, but he said he believes colon cancer testing is an important public health issue.
Yakima County offered to pay to have its campaign expanded to the Tri-Cities using grant money.
Klukan said he hoped to have conversations soon with the Benton Franklin Health Board about whether some parts of the campaign might be brought to the Tri-Cities.
"We will not proceed until we know what the local health board and the residents of Benton and Franklin counties might support," he said.
The Yakima Health District had planned to bring three or four billboards to the Tri-Cities in early May, but without the Benton-Franklin Health District logo. They would have been up for 16 weeks.
Yakima County's billboard campaign began in August. A survey showed about one in six people found the message distasteful, while about one in five had no opinion about the potentially offensive language.
The remaining two-thirds felt it was a positive way to raise public awareness about colon cancer.
An informal, nonscientific online poll about the "What's up your butt?" campaign conducted by the Herald showed of the 359 people who had responded by 5 p.m. Friday, 189 people, or 53 percent, thought the billboards were appropriate while 170 people, or 47 percent, thought they were not appropriate.
Colon cancer screening is recommended for everyone over 50, but about one-third of Benton and Franklin county residents in that age bracket haven't been tested, according to data from the state Department of Health.
In Benton County, 30 percent of adults older than 50 haven't been screened. The number is 36 percent for Franklin County have not been screened.
The state average is 28 percent.