Johnson & Johnson announced on Tuesday that it would stop selling its talk baby powder in the United States and Canada. In the wake of the so-called "misinformation" about the safety of the product, demand had decreased in the face of numerous legal challenges.
J&J faces more than 19,000 lawsuits from consumers and their survivors, who claim that its talc products caused cancer because they were contaminated with asbestos, a well-known carcinogen. Many are pending with a US district judge in New Jersey.
"I wish my mother could be here today to see it," said Crystal Deckard, whose mother Darlene Coker claimed that baby powder caused her mesothelioma. She dropped the lawsuit filed in 1999 after losing her fight to force J&J to disclose internal records. Coker died of mesothelioma in 2009.
In his statement, J&J said that it "continues to be confident in the safety of Johnson's talc-based baby powder" and cited "decades of scientific studies".
J & J underwent an in-depth review of the safety of its baby powder after a 2018 Reuters investigation report that found that asbestos had been lurking in its talk for decades.
Internal company records, judgments and other evidence show that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company's raw talc and finished powders were sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.
The Reuters article sparked a stock sale that wiped around $ 40 billion in one day from J&J's market value and triggered a PR crisis when the blue-chip health conglomerate faced widespread questions about the possible health effects of a of his most famous products.
J&J was also the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the safety of its talc products, an investigation by 41 states on the sale of baby powder released in April, and an investigation by a subcommittee on the health risks of asbestos in consumer products containing talc of the congress.
US representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who led the congressional investigation, described J & J's decision to stop selling talc baby powder as "a big win for public health," adding, "The 14-month investigation my subcommittee found that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its product contains asbestos. "
In response to evidence of asbestos contamination in media reports, in the courtroom and on Capitol Hill, J&J has repeatedly stated that its talc products are safe and do not cause cancer.
Aside from the controversy surrounding baby powder, which is admired by millions of consumers and one of the most trusted brands in America, the company has recently faced a number of legal and reputational issues.
J&J has stated that, along with other drug companies, it has been named as a defendant in more than 2,900 lawsuits alleging that the companies had improperly promoted addiction topoids.
In August, an Oklahoma judge issued the first ruling in the lawsuit, asking J&J to pay the state $ 572.1 million to fuel an opioid epidemic through the misleading marketing of addictive pain relievers.
J&J appeals against the judge's judgment in Oklahoma and denies that it caused the opioid crisis.
Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday that talc baby powder was discontinued when the COVID-19 crisis resulted in shopping and manufacturing restrictions, and this would now reduce sales in North America.
"Demand for Johnson's talc-based baby powder in North America has decreased in large part due to changing consumer habits and misinformation about the safety of the product and a constant flood of litigation," a statement said.
Johnson & # 39; s Baby Powder has been sold continuously since 1894 and accounts for only about 0.5% of its US consumer health business. However, it remains a symbol of the company's family-friendly image.
An internal J&J marketing presentation from 1999 refers to the baby products department, with the focus on baby powder, as J & J's "# 1 asset" based on "deep personal trust" and in an internal memo from 2003 it was described as a "sacred cow". "Reuters reported.
Christie Nordhielm, professor of marketing at Georgetown University, said J&J had apparently decided to pull out of the market while consumers were dealing with the pandemic. "It's a nice time to make it quiet," she said, adding, "it will minimize damage to your reputation."
J&J shares remained unchanged after disclosure in over-the-counter trading.
"We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the company in the courtroom," said Johnson & Johnson. "All judgments against the company that went through the appeal process were overturned."
Krystal Kim, one of 22 ovarian cancer women whose case in St. Louis in 2018 resulted in a $ 4.69 billion jury verdict against J&J, said the decision was "a step in the right direction ". J & J has appealed this verdict.
Even so, J&J's legal challenges are likely to continue, some lawyers said.
In April, a New Jersey judge ruled that thousands of plaintiffs who alleged that J & J's talc products had caused cancer could continue their claims, but had limited knowledge of what expert testimony was allowed in court proceedings.
"Just taking it off the shelf today doesn't end the litigation," said Loyola law professor Adam Zimmerman.
Asbestos is known to cause cancer that occurs decades after exposure. Cases of products containing asbestos that were withdrawn from the market a long time ago "are still being actively processed," said Zimmerman.
Many lawsuits claim that baby powder caused plaintiffs' mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lungs and other organs commonly caused by asbestos.
"Just as J&J promises to continue to fight fiercely in court, we look forward to seeing them there while we continue to seek justice for our clients," said Chris Placitella, one of the leading lawyers for the plaintiffs in New Jersey consolidated cases represent Federal Supreme Court.
J&J said the company will continue to sell cornstarch-based baby powder in North America and will sell its talc and cornstarch-based products in other markets around the world.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)