Johnson & Johnson to stop selling talc-based baby powder in 2023

The company facing thousands of legal claims alleging its talc caused cancer says it will transition to all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio.

A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder
The company maintains its products are safe [File: Reuters]

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) says it will stop selling its talc-based baby powder globally in 2023, more than two years after it ended sales in the United States and Canada of a product that drew thousands of consumer safety lawsuits.

“As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio,” the company said in a statement on Thursday.

It added that cornstarch-based baby powder was already sold in countries worldwide.

In 2020, J&J announced it would stop selling its talc Baby Powder in the two North American countries because demand had fallen in the wake of what it called “misinformation” about the product’s safety amid a barrage of legal challenges.

The company faces thousands of lawsuits claiming its talc products caused cancer due to contamination with asbestos, a known carcinogen.

J&J denies the allegations, saying decades of scientific testing and regulatory approvals have shown its talc to be safe and asbestos-free. On Thursday, it reiterated the statement as it announced the discontinuation of the product.

In October, J&J spun off subsidiary LTL Management, assigned its talc claims to it and immediately placed it into bankruptcy, pausing the pending lawsuits.

Those suing have said J&J should have to defend itself against the lawsuits, while defendants of the company and the bankrupt subsidiary process say it is an equitable way to compensate claimants.

Ben Whiting, a lawyer with the plaintiffs firm Keller Postman, said because the lawsuits are paused in bankruptcy, the company’s sales decision will not immediately affect them. But if a federal appellate court allows the cases to move forward, the consumers could try to use J&J’s decision to pull the products as evidence, Whiting said.

“If these cases were to go again, then it’s a very big deal,” Whiting said.

Baby Powder cancer claims

Before the bankruptcy filing, the company faced costs from $3.5bn in verdicts and settlements, including one in which 22 women were awarded a judgement of more than $2bn, according to bankruptcy court records.

In 2016, a Missouri state jury ordered J&J to pay $72m in damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower feminine hygiene product for several decades.

A year later, a US jury ordered J&J to pay $417m to a woman who claimed she developed terminal ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc-based products.

A Reuters news agency investigation in 2018 found that J&J had known about the presence of small amounts of asbestos in its products from as early as 1971. Reuters examined company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents.

The report also said the company had commissioned and paid for studies conducted on its Baby Powder franchise and hired a ghostwriter to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies