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Although Johnson & Johnson removed talc-based Baby Powder from the market earlier this year amid allegations the widely used consumer staple contains asbestos and may increase the risk of cancer, the manufacturer is likely to face years of litigation and problems stemming from decades of promoting the use of talcum powder among adult women for feminine hygiene.
Johnson’s Baby Powder was first introduced in 1894, and was a symbol of the company for more than a century. However, sales have dropped dramatically in recent years due to serious health concerns linked to side effects of talc exposure.
Prior to recalling talc Baby Powder, the product only accounted for 0.5% of Johnson & Johnson’s U.S. Consumer Health unit’s business. The company now only sells versions of Baby Powder that are talc-free, made with corn starch instead.
The company currently faces about 20,000 Baby Powder lawsuits and other claims filed that allege the talc-based product caused women to develop ovarian cancer, mesothelioma or other injuries after years of exposure. Many analysts suggest the current claims may cost Johnson & Johnson more than $10 billion in legal costs, but with new cancer cases likely to be diagnosed for years in the future, the decision to pull talc Baby Power from the market will not lead to a quick end to the problems for Johnson & Johnson.
Baby Powder Talc Risks
According to allegations raised by plaintiffs, Johnson & Johnson has known for decades about the potential link between talc powder and cancer, yet withheld information and warnings from consumers and continued to encourage use of the products around the genitals of adult women.
While most of the U.S. litigation is currently pending in the federal court system, where a small group of “bellwether” cases are being prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony likely to be repeated throughout the claims, Johnson & Johnson has already been hit with a number of massive verdicts in state court lawsuits that have gone to trial.
In July 2018, a Missouri jury awarded a staggering $4.7 billion in damages to a group of 22 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, finding that evidence presented at trial established Johnson & Johnson has known for decades that applying the popular talcum powder around the genitals may increase the risk of cancer, yet failed to warn consumers. Although Johnson & Johnson was able to reduce the verdict on appeal, a Missouri Supreme Court decision last month upheld a final verdict of $2.2 billion in damages for 20 of the women.
Earlier this year, Bayer agreed to pay $10 billion in Roundup settlements to resolve claims the widely used weed killer causes non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and estimates suggest that Johnson & Johnson will have to pay at least that amount in Baby Powder cancer settlements.
The talc Baby Powder problems for Johnson & Johnson not only come from citizen plaintiffs, but the company noted in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing earlier this year that it is also being investigated by 41 states, who are looking into how it has marketed talcum powder-based products.
While Johnson & Johnson has maintained it intends to continue defending the safety of talc Baby Powder, the company has not demonstrated it is capable of resolving the claims and investigations, and the talc problems are likely to continue to plague Johnson & Johnson for years into the future, regardless of what legal defense strategy they follow.