What's up your butt?
That's a variation on a question we'd like to ask Benton and Franklin county commissioners who withdrew support of a public health campaign aimed at taking some of the stigma out of screenings for colon cancer.
The Benton Franklin Health District Board -- comprised of all six county commissioners -- had voted unanimously to put the health district logo on billboards for the "What's Up Your Butt" advertising and awareness campaign.
The billboards, which encourage folks over 50 to undergo screening for colon cancer, have been up in Yakima County since August, and civilization has somehow managed to survive.
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Yakima health officials had offered to extend the campaign to the Tri-Cities and foot the cost of the billboards with grant money that's already been obtained.
But a handful of phone calls from citizens opposing the language used on the billboards caused Benton County Commissioner Jim Beaver, also chairman of the health district board, to initiate efforts to rescind the board's support of the campaign.
Whether his actions followed state law on open meetings still is in question, but all six commissioners from Benton and Franklin counties who make up the board decided via e-mail just one day after they unanimously endorsed the plan to instead withdraw their support.
So six of our elected officials whom we count on to make sound judgments in the best interest of the citizens of Benton and Franklin counties fully believed the "What's Up Your Butt" campaign was important enough to carry the health district's logo one day, but quickly retreated from that stance after just a few phone calls.
While some commissioners say they are listening to the people who elected them, we aren't comforted by the explanation. If it takes only a handful of complaints to sway them from a unanimous decision, what else can a few strategically placed phone calls get them to do?
We're not sure how many of the commissioners' constituents were offended by the campaign's catch phrase. Certainly it's a number greater than zero.
We even heard from a few readers, some afraid that the precocious youngsters in their lives would soon be mimicking the billboards.
But -- pun intended -- are we really so uptight in the Tri-Cities that the word "butt" on a billboard sends the masses into a tizzy?
Yakima County has had the billboards up for months and two-thirds of participants in a survey said the billboards are a good way to get people's attention. One in six people found the language on the billboards to be in poor taste.
No one disputes the underlying message of the billboards: Getting checked for colon cancer is one of those annual exams necessary to maintain good health as we age. That the procedure is a little unpleasant and in a region of the body most of us would like to keep private creates some anxiety. So why not have a little fun with it?
We've seen popular campaigns encouraging mammograms and fund-raising for breast cancer research, for example, that take advantage of society's pre-occupation with breasts using catchy slogans. Why should the colon be any different? It needs attention, too. And sometimes using humor to remove the stigma from something makes people more comfortable in doing things that are, well, literally uncomfortable.
We're disappointed that our counties' leaders flip-flopped on what could be a life-saving awareness campaign for citizens of the Tri-Cities.
More than 30 percent of the residents of the two counties who are over 50 have not been screened. Those numbers are high enough to put concern about public health over a few people who find the language distasteful.
The odds of survival improve dramatically the earlier a cancer is detected. More than 90 percent of patients who began treatment while their colon cancer is is in Stage 1 still are alive after five years. The five-year survival rate for patients with Stage 4 is around 8 percent.
This is a treatable disease, if discovered early. Explaining the billboard's embarrassing phrasing to a curious child has to beat discussing a loved one's death.
The mere fact that the commissioners received some phone calls is proof enough that the campaign works. It got people's attention without a single billboard in sight.