The island nation of Sri Lanka has issued a ban on all Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder imports, indicating that the company has to prove that the product is free of asbestos before it can be sold there again.
Government officials from Sri Lanka announced the ban last week, saying that Baby Powder currently in stock throughout the country can still be sold, but that no more bottles will be allowed in until the subsidiary J&J India, which supplies the product throughout the region, can show that the talcum powder has been adequately tested and shown not to contain asbestos.
The ban comes following a report in December 2018, which revealed that internal Johnson & Johnson documents that suggest the company has known its talc products contained asbestos since the 1950s, yet has failed to warn consumers. Lab data reporting back to 1957 and 1958, and again in 1972 through 1975, apparently contained evidence of asbestos in talc mined by the company.
Following the report, Indian drug regulators ordered the company to halt production of baby powder in that nation, and two factories are to be inspected to show there is no asbestos in those products.
Sri Lanka followed with a request by Kamal Jayasinghe, head of the Sri Lanka National Medicine Regulatory Authority (NMRA), that the company provide evidence of testing from an independent laboratory.
The request also came after the Sri Lanka import license for Johnson’s Baby Powder, held by A. Baur & Co., expired in December. The relicensing process has been suspended due to the NMRA’s concerns over the asbestos risks.
Last week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray also called on Johnson & Johnson to turn over talc cancer documents, indicating that the extraordinary risks for consumers require the company to make sure regulators and the public have all relevant information about the safety and testing of Johnson’s Baby Powder.
Talc Powder Cancer Litigation
The concerns come following the discovery of documents through the on-going Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits in the U.S. court system, which reportedly suggest that Johnson & Johnson has continued to promote use of the talc powder by adult women for feminine hygiene, despite known cancer risks.
Most of the cases involve women who developed ovarian cancer following years of applying the talcum powder around their genitals on nearly a daily basis. However, a number of cases also allege that asbestos particles contained in the powder were inhaled and resulted in the development of the rare and often fatal form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma.
In July, a Missouri state jury awarded $4.7 billion to a group of 22 women with ovarian cancer, including punitive damages designed to punish Johnson & Johnson for withholding compelling evidence about the risk associated with their popular products.
In May, a California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $25.7 million in a talc mesothelioma case. In April, a New Jersey jury awarded $117 million to a man diagnosed with mesothelioma due to exposure from talcum powder. That verdict included $80 million in punitive damages.
In December, a talc powder case went to trial in California, resulted in a jury award of $17.57 million in compensatory damages and $4.6 million in punitive damages, for the family of man who died of mesothelioma in 2016, after years of exposure to talc.
A number of studies published in recent years have highlighted the link between talc powder and mesothelioma, but questions about the risk were first raised by health officials in Baltimore as early as 1972.
In October 2014, a study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health identified a potential link between an unnamed, but popular, brand of talc powder and asbestos exposure, suggesting that use of the product may have caused the death of at least one unidentified woman due to mesothelioma.
While Johnson & Johnson is pursuing appeals in each of the cases that resulted in a verdict, and is refusing to negotiate talcum powder settlements, some analysts have suggested that the recent verdicts are a sign that juries find Johnson & Johnson’s trial defense lacking in credibility.