After years of controversy over its popular baby and adult hygiene products, Johnson & Johnson announced it will stop all US and Canadian sales of its famous baby powder product. According to the company, the decision comes as a result of decreasing demand caused by “misinformation” about the product’s safety.
The product has been a part of Johnson & Johnson’s product line since 1894 but now accounts for only about 0.5 percent of its US consumer health business. However, it remains one of the company’s most recognized symbols. Johnson & Johnson recalled a batch containing 33,000 of its baby powder bottles in October 2019. This came after US regulators found trace amounts of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s product. According to the company, the recall was done out of “an abundance of caution”.
As of the announcement, the company faces nearly 20,000 lawsuits filed by consumers diagnosed with cancer and family members who lost loved ones. The lawsuits claim that Johnson & Johnson products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen. Johnson & Johnson denies its products are unsafe. In its statement announcing the decision, the company also stated it “remains steadfastly confident” that all of its products are safe, based on “decades of scientific studies.”
The announcement triggered a stock selloff that caused the company to lose $40 billion in market value in a single day.
The ongoing investigations into the risks associated with the use of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and other talc-containing products manufactured by the company revealed that these products have tested positive for asbestos throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s.
There has also been an ongoing federal criminal investigation into how much the company knew about the dangers of its products. US Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, leader of the Congressional inquiry into what J&J knew, called the decision to stop selling the product “a major victor for public health.”
The latest move by Johnson & Johnson comes after decades of pediatricians advising against the use of talcum powder on infants. They warned that babies could inhale the product and become infected. Despite the warnings, the product continued to be one of the company’s best-known products. It is made from pure talc, which is a mineral that is often near asbestos in the earth.
Previous investigations that were conducted by Reuters and the New York Times revealed that internal documents from J&J showed that some executives within the company were concerned about the products. This included possible safety issues due to asbestos contamination.
Johnson & Johnson Faces Ongoing Legal Issues
Baby powder lawsuits are not the only legal issue Johnson & Johnson has dealt with recently.
The company was named as a defendant in nearly 3000 lawsuits related to opioid addiction. According to claims, J&J and other drug companies deceptively promoted addictive painkiller medications, knowing of the risks. The first verdict in these cases was rendered in August 2019 when an Oklahoma judge ordered the company to pay more than $572 million for the role it played in fueling the nation’s opioid crisis. That ruling has been appealed.
Decision Comes during Global COVID-19 Pandemic
Marketing experts believe Johnson & Johnson’s announcement to pull its famous product from the market was timed strategically to coincide with the COVID-19 pandemic. News is overrun with stories about the virus and other things are getting less attention than they would under other circumstances.
According to Johnson & Johnson, COVID-19 has affected led to limits on production and manufacturing and it had decided to stop shipping baby powder as a result. This led to the announcement that it would ultimately wind down North American sales permanently, stating that demand for talc-based products was in decline due to “misinformation around the safety” of these products. It also said sales had been affected by the “constant barrage of litigation advertising.”
The company says it will continue to defend the safety of its product and that all of the allegations are unfounded. The company added it will continue to sell its cornstarch-based baby powder products in North America, and sales of talc-based powders will continue outside of North America.
What Does Johnson & Johnson’s Announcement Mean for Talc Lawsuits?
The announcement to stop manufacturing its baby powder product comes amid thousands of lawsuits alleging the company knew its products were contaminated with asbestos, a claim that Johnson & Johnson continues to deny.
Legal experts believe additional lawsuits are yet to be filed by those affected by Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products. Plaintiffs believe the most recent news of the baby powder being pulled from the market will be favorable to their cases.