On August 11, 2022, global pharmaceutical and consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) announced that it would stop all sales of its talc-based baby powder products in 2023. The announcement is noteworthy news for tens of thousands of women who are bringing lawsuits against J&J, claiming damages for allegedly developing cancer due to baby powder use.
The news of the global discontinuance of J&J baby powder signals the end of the line for a product that has been sold for over 125 years and was once the company’s self-described “#1 Asset”1 before the public was alerted to the fact that the products may contain asbestos and cause cancer.
Lawsuits allege that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that talc was linked to cancer
Johnson’s Baby Powder’s status as “a symbol of the company’s family-friendly image” began to come under fire over a decade ago, after a series of lawsuits and investigative reports alleged that asbestos, a highly dangerous known carcinogen, was detected in Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based hygiene products, including baby powder. A series of scientific studies linked the use of talcum powder specifically to various forms of cancers in women, in particular ovarian cancer.
To add further alarm, the journalists and litigants alleged that J&J knew of the potentially dangerous nature of its products for years but failed to act. Internal company documents filed in the lawsuits have been put forth as evidence that, since at least the 1970s, J&J knew its products tested positive for trace amounts of asbestos but failed to disclose it to regulators or the public.
Johnson’s Baby Powder already pulled from North American shelves in 2020
Though Johnson & Johnson continues to publicly assert that “talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the company has previously taken drastic actions to change the make-up of its baby products and curtail sales of baby powder.
In the early 2010s, J&J announced it was taking steps to remove harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde, from its baby products2, however even those steps may not have resolved the safety issues with baby powder. By May 2020, J&J announced it would stop selling talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada, which it stated was driven by declining consumer demand due to the high profile lawsuits – lawsuits that J&J contended were “unfounded”.
Siskinds is working for compensation for Canadians who used Johnson’s Baby Powder
In Canada, a product recall may be relevant to a lawsuit for manufacturer negligence because a recall can act as a form of evidence which a court or jury can use to help infer the existence of a safety issue3. However, the global discontinuance is unlikely to have any immediate impact on the 38,000 lawsuits filed against J&J, as many of the claims are currently impacted by a bankruptcy.
Last October, J&J assigned its talc claims to a subsidiary company that immediately filed for bankruptcy, pausing the pending lawsuits. A viable framework for settling the cancer claims has yet to be determined, but last month the bankruptcy judge appointed an independent expert to assess the value of lawsuits, to help move the bankruptcy towards a viable claims process.4
1 An internal J&J marketing presentation from 1999 refers to the baby products division, with Baby Powder at the core, as J&J’s “#1 Asset”, Reuters reported.
2 In a November 2011 letter, responding to complaints about cancer-causing chemicals in its baby products, J&J committed to eliminating formaldehyde-releasing preservatives from hundreds of baby products within two years, Reuters reported.
3 Johansson v General Motors of Canada Ltd, 2012 NSCA 120
4 A U.S. bankruptcy judge selected an independent expert to assess the value of about 38,000 lawsuits alleging that Johnson & Johnson’s talc products caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma in an effort to break an impasse in the bankruptcy, Reuters reported.