Johnson & Johnson says it will stop selling baby powder containing talc in the U.S. and Canada after suspending shipments of the powder -- along with many other products -- during the coronavirus (COVID-19) economic shutdown.
The company says it is permanently discontinuing about 100 of its products, and Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder is one of them. The product has been the object of thousands of lawsuits from longtime users who have claimed the powder causes cancer.
Johnson & Johnson has vigorously denied those claims but has acknowledged that the litigation has hurt 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,” the company said in a statement announcing the move.
In North America, Johnson & Johnson will continue to offer a baby powder product made with cornstarch. It will continue to manufacture its talc-based product for sale outside of North America.
“Johnson & Johnson remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder,” the company said. “Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product. We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom. All verdicts against the Company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned.”
Most recent verdict
The most recent verdict came in February when a New Jersey state court ordered the company to pay $750 million in damages to four plaintiffs who claimed asbestos in the company’s talc powder products caused their lung cancer.
The judge in the case said she would lower the amount of the damages, but it is still the most ever awarded to claimants suing Johnson & Johnson over their illness. That case is pending appeal.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, as of the end of the first quarter, Johnson & Johnson faced lawsuits from more than 19,000 plaintiffs in the U.S. who claimed the powder caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer.
The company said it would phase out the sale of talc-based powder in North America in the coming months. It said existing inventory will continue to be sold through retailers until supplies have been depleted.