Johnson & Johnson is ending sales of talc-based Baby Powder in the United States and Canada, amid lagging sales and mounting concerns that use of the product could contribute to the development of certain cancers.
Since its introduction over 100 years ago, Baby Powder made with talc has become central to Johnson & Johnson’s caring and wholesome image. But in recent years, the company has found itself defending thousands of talcum powder lawsuits that blame Baby Powder for causing ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
While Johnson & Johnson has prevailed in about half of the cases that have gone to trial so far, others have concluded with massive verdicts for plaintiffs. In 2018, for example, a jury in St. Louis, Missouri awarded $4.7 billion to 22 women and their family members who claimed asbestos-tainted Baby Powder caused ovarian cancer. Last year, a jury in California ordered the company to pay $29.4 million to a woman who had used the talc-based powder for decades before being diagnosed with mesothelioma. And earlier this year, a New Jersey jury awarded $750 million in punitive damages in a Baby Powder lawsuit involving four mesothelioma plaintiffs.
In December 2018, separate investigations by Reuters and the New York Times found that officials at Johnson & Johnson had worried for decades that the raw talc used to manufacture Baby Powder could contain trace amounts of asbestos, but declined to inform the public or regulators.
Last year, the company recalled 33,000 bottles of talc-based Baby Powder after tests conducted by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration detected sub-traces of asbestos in a single bottle.
Nevertheless, Johnson & Johnson continues to insists that its raw talc is asbestos free, denies any link between Baby Powder and cancer, and has promised to vigorously defend all remaining talcum powder lawsuits.
“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,” the company said in a statement posted to its website on Tuesday.
Retail stores in the United States and Canada can still sell any talc-based product that remains in stock, and Johnson & Johnson will continue to market Baby Powder made with cornstarch in North America. Sales of both formulations will continue in other countries around the world.