Buying an ad on the back cover of the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is expensive. But the joke that Snickers used this year was pretty cheap.
A blonde model is pictured wearing a pink bikini over a white hazmat suit and a respirator mask on her face. The faux cover design features the words “Goddesses of Asbestos Removal” and explains it as what might happen when magazine staff is hungry. The folks behind this photo were presumably going for laughs, but there’s nothing funny about the thousands of people that die every year from mesothelioma.
Deadly disease is not amusing
According to the CDC, there were over 45,000 deaths related to mesothelioma from 1999 to 2015. Asbestos-related illnesses are still a very real problem, and deaths from exposure to it has a devastating effect on families.
Unfortunately, this Sports Illustrated stunt is just the latest in a long line of pop culture references that use asbestos as a punchline. The dangerous material has been used as a gag in everything from an episode of “The Simpsons” where children are chanting for “more asbestos” in their classroom to Will Ferrell posing as a deceased victim of asbestos exposure in the movie “Step Brothers.”
It is unclear why it has become part of the comedy playbook to make light of a material that is linked to a deadly illness.
Asbestos exposure is an ongoing issue
Although U.S. production ceased in 2002, asbestos is still being imported to manufacture products like soap, fertilizers and alkaline batteries, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. That means the focus should be educating the public on the dangers of asbestos, not making jokes that trivialize it.
It would be great to see this disturbing trend of light-hearted references to asbestos in the media come to a close. You can raise awareness by pushing back on comedy that tries to turn mesothelioma into a laughing matter.