After years of ongoing lawsuits alleging Johnson & Johnson hid the associated increased risk to ovarian cancer, the company has finally announced it will discontinue the sale of Talcum Powder products in the U.S and Canada. At the start of this litigation, the goal was only to get the large conglomerate to warn of the increased risk of cancer on the label. The discontinuance of sale and production of talc-based baby powder is a far bigger win for society then anticipated. It is estimated that approximately 10% of the 21,000 plus ovarian cancer diagnosis-es each year are attributable to the genital use of talc powder. This action ensures that there will never be new users and current use of this harmful product will stop.
The talcum powder federal multi-district litigation officially formed in 2016, but there have been single event cases dating back to the 1970s. Johnson & Johnson has aggressively fought the claims defending the purity of the product. Early cases were dismissed or voluntarily discontinued while J&J withheld research and documents indicating that the genital use of talcum powder was associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Beginning in 2016, jury trials in Missouri and California began resulting in multi-million dollar verdicts on behalf of victims who developed cancer after using talcum baby powder. Regardless of the trial verdicts, J&J continued to back the product. The company ignored the scientific evidence that showed an increased risk of cancer from using talc-based powder and continued to put the consumer in harm's way to deepen its own pockets. In 2017, evidence emerged that J&J's talcum powder contained small amounts of asbestos, a dangerous mineral that causes mesothelioma. J&J denied the claims. In October of 2019, the FDA tested random containers of J&J talc powder and found unsafe levels of asbestos. Johnson & Johnson was forced to recall the affected lots. Afterward, they continued to steadfastly defend the product.
The announcement discontinuing the sale of the product comes shortly after the MDL judge ruled that the vast majority of the plaintiff's proposed expert witness testimony was valid and could be heard by the jury at trial. As J&J pulls the product, it still claims that there is no increased risk of cancer and it continues to sell the product in other countries. It has rationalized the discontinuance of the product as a commercial decision based upon declining sales. Although baby powder makes up only a small portion of Johnson & Johnson's revenue, the talc story has tarnished its reputation. Regardless of the justifications it gives to the public, the litigation brought to light a blatant disregard for the consumer and a willingness to place profits over the safety of the public. Like many similar litigations in the past, this litigation rid the public of a product that provided no medical benefit, but imposed significant harm.