Johnson & Johnson will stop selling talcum powder for babies in the United States and Canada, where sales have plummeted amid a wave of litigation claiming the personal care product can cause cancer.
The world’s largest healthcare company said powder sales have dropped 60% in the past three years as it was hit by thousands of lawsuits and billions of dollars in damages at trial for allegations.
Kathleen Widmer, President of North America for the Consumer Healthcare division of Johnson & Johnson, said that the advertisement of lawyers seeking new clients to sue the company had confused clients and caused sales to drop.
Widmer said sales will continue outside the United States and Canada, which represent only about 20% of the overall product market. “Johnson’s baby powder will continue to be sold in other markets where demand is significantly higher and consumers are not confused by the misleading advertising of litigation,” she said.
J&J faces nearly 19,400 lawsuits related to allegations that its talcum powder can cause cancer. In 2019, the company received subpoenas from U.S. authorities investigating the allegations. He lost several lawsuits, including one high-profile case in 2018, when he was ordered to pay $ 4.7 billion in damages for 22 women who alleged their cancer was caused by the use of the product.
The company is appealing the verdict and J&J has said it is confident the product is safe. Last year, it rejected claims by the US regulator that it had found traces of asbestos in baby powder, claiming that new tests had shown no evidence of the known carcinogen. All the verdicts that went through the entire appeal process have been set aside, he said on Tuesday.
“Decades of scientific research by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product,” said J&J. “We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety and the unsubstantiated allegations against him and the company in the courtroom.”
The company will continue to sell cornstarch baby powder in the United States and Canada.
The decision to abandon talcum baby powder came as J&J cut its lines, in part because of the Covid-19 crisis. The company cuts approximately 100 products to prioritize high-demand products – such as the pain reliever Tylenol and Listerine mouthwash – and allow for social distancing in the factory and in distribution facilities.
Several consumer goods groups are streamlining their product lines to focus on commodities 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