J&J to Pull Talc-based Baby Powder Worldwide

16.08.2022 - Johnson & Johnson is finally pulling the plug on its iconic talc-based baby powder worldwide.

From 2023, the healthcare giant said it will sell only the cornstarch version it has marketed exclusively in the US and Canada for the past two years. 

In 2020, J&J acknowledged it was removing the talc product from North American shelves in response to the ongoing litigation in which it has been embroiled for several years.

Despite the company having won a few major victories, its woes continue to mount. As late as last month, it was still facing 40,300 lawsuits, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In the litigation, plaintiffs, almost all women, who had used the baby powder regularly for years, especially for intimate care, alleged that the product was the cause of their ovarian cancer, or mesothelioma.

Before it bundled the activities last year into a holding called LTL Management and filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors, J&J was dealing with costs of $3.5 billion from verdicts and settlements. The most spectacular and costly involved 22 women in the US state of Missouri, who were awarded a judgment of more than $4.7 billion. On appeal, this was reduced to $2.1 billion.

A proposal by activist investor platform Tulipshare, calling for an end to global sales of the talc baby powder, failed in April this year after the company successfully asked the stock market regulator for permission not to bring it to a vote at the annual general meeting. The Third US Circuit Court of Appeals said later it would review the case. 

In a filing with the US stock market watchdog Securities & Exchange Commission, Johnson & Johnson said it paid $7.4 billion in litigation expenses 2020 and 2021. The company said the talc cases were a principal driver.

J&J has continued to maintain that its product is safe to use and that talc doesn’t cause cancer. The company, however, did have to soft-pedal the assertion that the powder does not contain asbestos after traces of the chemical widely suspected of having carcinogenic properties turned up in a batch of powder in 2019 and it had to recall multiple batches.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist