Johnson & Johnson stops selling talc baby powder in US amid cancer lawsuits

May 20, 2020
Thousands of consumers have filed lawsuits against J&J in relation to its talc-based baby powder. Source: Pixabay.

Johnson & Johnson will no longer sell its talc-based baby powder in the United States or Canada due to a decline in sales. The US pharmaceutical giant made the announcement on Tuesday, claiming the decision to axe the sale of the product in the North American market was the result of a “portfolio assessment related to COVID-19”.

“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fuelled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” a J&J spokesperson said in a statement.

It comes as the US-based company faces more than 16,000 lawsuits from consumers who claim its talc-based products contained asbestos and caused their cancer, reports the BBC. While J&J has so far been made to pay billions of dollars in damages, the company has been fighting the suits and has had many of those verdicts reduced or overturned on appeal.

The statement continued: “Johnson & Johnson remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder … 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.”

Customers in the US and Canada will still be able to purchase Johnson’s cornstarch-based baby powder, while both talc- and cornstarch-based products will still be sold abroad.

In October last year Johnson & Johnson recalled tens of thousands of bottles of its hugely popular Johnson’s Baby Powder, after low traces of asbestos were discovered in a bottle that had been sold online by federal regulators in the United States. The US pharmaceuticals firm issued a voluntary recall and urged customers who may have purchased a bottle from lot #22318RB to stop using it immediately.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. (JJCI) announced that it is initiating a voluntary recall in the United States of a single lot of its Johnson’s Baby Powder in response to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) test indicating the presence of sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination in samples from a single bottle purchased from an online retailer,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“Despite the low levels reported and in full cooperation and collaboration with the FDA, JJCI is initiating this voluntary recall of Lot #22318RB of Johnson’s Baby Powder, from which the tested sample was taken.”

Last year’s recall was the first time the 134-year-old company had voluntarily pulled its baby powder products from sale over potential asbestos contamination. However, at the end of 2018, a report claimed that Johnson & Johnson had known for decades that its baby powder contains traces of asbestos. Internal reports and other confidential documents uncovered by Reuters found the company had recorded small amounts of the harmful mineral in the baby powder from at least 1971.

According to the news agency Johnson & Johnson executives and other personnel including scientists, doctors and lawyers were all aware of the problem and had tried to handle it, keeping information from  regulators and the public. The publication claimed it found reports by a consulting lab from 1957 and 1958 mentioning signs of tainted powder. Various reports from then into the early 200s indicated asbestos was present.

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