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Johnson & Johnson will stop selling its talc-based baby powder worldwide starting next year, in what it described as a “commercial decision” aimed at ensuring long-term growth.
The company stopped selling such products in the United States and Canada just over two years ago, citing declining demand for the baby powder as a reason after thousands of consumer lawsuits were filed against the company alleging the powder contained carcinogens .
Activist shareholders had previously urged the company to stop international sales of the talc-based powder products.
Johnson & Johnson said Thursday it “strongly supports” the belief that its talc-based products are safe, non-cancer and non-asbestos. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to lung cancer, but there is debate as to whether the material can cause ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson has lost court cases alleging that its talc-based powders cause the latter.
Ben Whiting, attorney for Chicago-based law firm Keller Postman, said there would have been “real and negative litigation implications” in the United States if Johnson & Johnson had made the decision to stop selling talc-based products internationally at an earlier time .
Talc is made from the mineral talc, which is primarily composed of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, which the American Cancer Society says can cause cancer in and around the lungs if inhaled. The US personal care products industry has long had guidelines dictating that beauty products should not contain detectable levels of asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson had previously complained about “misinformation” about the safety of the talc-based powder and a “barrage of publicity litigation.”
The company will transition to only selling cornstarch-based baby powder. In 2020, Johnson & Johnson said demand for its baby powder is higher outside of the United States and Canada. According to Bloomberg News, about 75 percent of U.S. baby powder customers buy the cornstarch version, while only 25 percent buy talcum powder. These percentages are reversed outside of the United States.
Does talcum powder cause ovarian cancer?
Since 2014, Johnson & Johnson has faced lawsuits in the United States from consumers who claim they developed cancer after prolonged use of the company’s talc-based products. The indictments accused the company of concealing and downplaying cancer risks and were seeking compensation.
Johnson & Johnson has disputed these claims with mixed results. It has had some success in reducing jury awards that have led it to pay out billions of dollars, but it still faces hefty fines.
In 2017, a Los Angeles jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million to Eva Echeverria, who said her terminal ovarian cancer was linked to her use of baby powder.
In 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld an appeals court decision ordering the company to pay $2.1 billion to women who claimed they developed ovarian cancer after using its talc products. That amount was a reduction from the original $4.7 billion awarded by a jury after some original plaintiffs were released from the case. The US Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by Johnson & Johnson.