Johnson & Johnson will stop selling its baby talcum powder in the US and Canada, where sales have dropped amid a wave of litigation claiming that the personal care product can cause cancer.
The world’s largest healthcare company said sales of the powder had dropped 60 per cent in the past three years, as it had been hit with thousands of lawsuits and billions of dollars in damages at trial over the claims.
Kathleen Widmer, chairman of North America for Johnson & Johnson’s consumer health division, said advertising from lawyers seeking new clients to sue the company had confused customers and caused sales to fall.
Ms Widmer said sales would continue outside the US and Canada, which only made up about 20 per cent of the entire market for the talc-based product. “Johnson’s baby powder will continue to be sold in other markets where there’s significantly higher demand, and where consumers are not confused by misleading litigation advertising,” she said.
J&J is facing almost 19,400 lawsuits related to the claims that its talcum powder can cause cancer. In 2019 the company received subpoenas from US authorities investigating the claims. It has lost several trials, including one high-profile case in 2018, when it was ordered to pay $4.7bn in damages in the case of 22 women who alleged their cancer was caused by using the product.
The company is appealing against that verdict, and J&J said it was confident the product is safe. Last year it pushed back on claims from the US regulator that it had found traces of asbestos in baby powder, saying new tests had shown no evidence of the known carcinogen. All verdicts that have been through the complete appeals process have been overturned, it said on Tuesday.
“Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product,” J&J said. “We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety and the unfounded allegations against it and the company in the courtroom.”
The company will continue to sell cornstarch-based baby powder in the US and Canada.
The decision to drop talc-based baby powder came as J&J slims down its lines, in part because of the Covid-19 crisis. The company is cutting about 100 products to prioritise high-demand products — such as the painkiller Tylenol and the mouthwash Listerine — and allow social distancing on the factory floor and in distribution facilities.
Several consumer goods groups are streamlining their product line-ups to focus on core products and meet demand during the pandemic, including Clorox, Coca-Cola and General Mills, the food company behind Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Cheerios cereal and Old El Paso tacos.
Additional reporting by Alistair Gray