Johnson & Johnson announced it would not be selling talc Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada. Demand had dropped due to what it called “misinformation” about product safety due to a stream of legal charges.
J&J claiming its talc products caused cancer due to contamination with asbestos, which is generally known as a carcinogen, faces more than 19,000 lawsuits from consumers and survivors. Many cases are pending before a U.S. district judge in New Jersey.
J&J, in its statement, said it “remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder,” citing “decades of scientific studies.”
Coker dropped the suit filed in 1999 after losing her fight to compel J&J to divulge internal records. “I wish my mother could be here to see this day,” told Crystal Deckard. It was her mother, Darlene Coker. Crystal alleged Baby Powder caused her mesothelioma. Coker died of mesothelioma in 2009.
The Reuters published an article that prompted a stock selloff that erased about $40 billion from J&J’s market value in one day. It created a public relations crisis as the blue-chip healthcare conglomerate faced widespread questions about the possible health effects of iconic products.
J&J has been the target of a federal criminal investigation into how forthright it has been about its talc products’ safety, a survey by 41 states into its baby powder sales. It is disclosed in April and an investigation into the health risks of asbestos in talc-containing consumer products under the Congressional subcommittee.
U.S. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is leading the Congressional inquiry, described J&J’s decision to stop selling talc baby powder as “a major victory for public health.” She further said, “My Subcommittee’s 14-month investigation uncovered that Johnson & Johnson knew for many years now that J&J product contains asbestos.”
In response to evidence found about asbestos contamination presented in media reports, in the courtroom, and on Capitol Hill, J&J has said its talc products are safe and will never cause cancer.
The company, revered by millions of consumers and one of the most trusted brands in America, has faced a series of legal and reputational challenges.
In August, an Oklahoma judge ordered J&J to pay $572.1 million to the state to fuel an opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing addictive painkillers.
J&J has said, along with other drugmakers, it has been facing more than 2,900 lawsuits alleging the companies improperly promoted addictive opioids.
J&J is appealing to the Oklahoma judge’s ruling. It has denied that it caused the opioid crisis.
Johnson & Johnson had stopped shipping talc baby powder when the COVID-19 crisis led to limits on shopping and manufacturing, and that now it would wind down North American sales.
“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” it said in a statement.
Johnson’s Baby Powder accounts for only about 0.5% of its U.S. health business. But it remains a symbol of the company’s family-friendly image.
With Baby Powder at the core, as J&J’s “#1 Asset,” grounded in “deep, personal trust” and a 2003 internal memo described it as a “sacred cow,” in an internal J&J marketing presentation from 1999 refers to the baby products division.
A professor of marketing at Georgetown, Christie Nordhielm, said it appears J&J made its decision to withdraw from the market while consumers are preoccupied with the pandemic. “It’s a nice time to do it quietly, and it would minimize the reputational hit.”
Following the disclosure of the above state of affairs, shares of J&J were unchanged in after-hours trading .
“We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom,” Johnson & Johnson said. “All verdicts against the company that has been through the appeals process have been overturned.”
Krystal Kim, one of 22 women with ovarian cancer whose case in St. Louis resulted in a 2018 jury verdict of $4.69 billion against J&J, said the decision was “a step in the right direction.” J&J has appealed that verdict.
Nevertheless, J&J’s legal challenges likely will continue, some lawyers said.
In April, a New Jersey judge ruled that thousands of plaintiffs who allege J&J’s talc products caused cancer can go forward with their claims, but face limits on what expert testimony would be allowed in trials.
“Just taking it off the shelf today doesn’t end the litigation by a long shot,” said Loyola Law Professor Adam Zimmerman. Asbestos is known to cause cancer that emerges decades after the exposure. Cases involving asbestos-containing products removed from the marketplace long ago “continue to be litigated very actively to this day,” Zimmerman said.
Many of the lawsuits allege Baby Powder caused plaintiffs` mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs, and other organs commonly caused by asbestos.
“Just as J&J vows to continue fighting vigorously in the courts, we look forward to meeting them there as we continue to pursue justice for our clients,” said Chris Placitella. He is one of the lead lawyers representing plaintiffs in the cases consolidated in a New Jersey federal court.
J&J said it will continue to sell the cornstarch-based baby powder in North America and will sell both its talc and cornstarch-based products in other markets around the world.