Johnson & Johnson on Thursday said it will switch to selling cornstarch-based baby powder, halting global sales of its talcum-based powders that have been the focus of tens of thousands of injury claims alleging the talc causes ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
J&J in 2020 halted sales of talc-based products in the U.S. and Canada, citing a decline in consumer demand and “misinformation” about the safety of the products, but will now stop selling the product globally in 2023, the company said in a brief news release.
“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer.”
The company already sells cornstarch-based baby powder all over the world, but said it made the decision to “simplify” its product offerings and “meet the needs of our consumers … and evolving global trends.”
Leigh O’Dell of the Beasley Allen Law Firm, who represents a number of plaintiffs in talc litigation against J&J, praised the company’s decision in a statement provided to Law360 on Thursday evening, but questioned why it took so long.
“After decades of selling talc-based products the company knew could cause deadly cancers to unsuspecting women and men around the world, J&J has finally done the right thing,” O’Dell said. “They stopped sales in North America more than two years ago and blamed that move on the litigation.”
“We’re not sure of the rationale for this announcement today, but the delay in taking this step is inexcusable,” she added. “I can only hope J&J will now take responsibility and adequately compensate the victims they have needlessly harmed, and end this charade of bankruptcy that has dragged on far too long.”
In an attempt to wipe out billions of dollars in more than 38,000 claims that allege it concealed the risk of cancer from talc, J&J in October sought Chapter 11 protection in North Carolina bankruptcy court for LTL Management, the subsidiary it spun off to hold its talc liability.
J&J said at the time it will commit to providing LTL with funds to pay amounts the bankruptcy court determines the company owes. It said it will establish a $2 billion trust to pay claims against LTL and has allocated spinoff royalty revenue streams worth more than $350 million to contribute to potential costs.
LTL in February survived motions to dismiss its Chapter 11 case after a New Jersey judge said the bankruptcy presents the best way for talc injury claimants to receive recoveries. And last month, the judge ordered an estimation processto establish the aggregate value of all the talc injury claims in the Chapter 11 case.
Litigation results against J&J have been a mixed bag, with some plaintiffs racking up huge wins — including one cancer patient in California who was awarded $26.5 million in compensatory damages and a group of plaintiffs in New Jersey who won $186 million in punitive damages — and others who either lose in the courtroom or on appeal.
A Missouri appeals court in June 2020 halved a $4.7 billion verdict against J&J but refused to overturn it completely, saying the trial evidence showed the company’s conduct regarding a product that’s been blamed for causing ovarian cancer “was outrageous.”
The court slashed $2.6 billion from the verdict. The majority of what was cut — $2.42 billion — came from a finding that a J&J subsidiary’s conduct in the Show Me State couldn’t be imputed to the New Jersey-based parent company.
Seventeen of the 22 plaintiffs are not Missouri residents and also could not blame J&J for the Missouri manufacture of a talc product they used, Shower to Shower Shimmer Effects, because that manufacture was overseen by subsidiary J&J Consumer Cos. Inc., the appeals court said.
In September 2021, a Missouri state juryrejected claims that J&J’s talc powder caused ovarian cancer in three women, and a Philadelphia jury that same month cleared the company of claims that its product contributed to a woman’s cancer diagnosis.
An Illinois state jury in July 2021 also sided with J&J, rejecting a woman’s claims that her aunt died of ovarian cancer caused by the company’s baby powder.
–By Lauren Berg. Additional reporting by Emily Field, Rick Archer, Vince Sullivan, Cara Salvatore, Rachel Scharf and Lauraann Wood. Editing by Michael Watanabe.