On Tuesday, May 19, 2020 Johnson & Johnson announced plans to discontinue the company’s renowned talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the United States and in Canada. The company has been selling Johnson’s Baby Powder for over 125 years; but relatively recent legal actions here in US, against J&J, have impacted product sales.
As the company acknowledges in this week’s announcement: “Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.”
That litigation advertising is in reference to J&J’s alleged accountability in instances of ovarian cancer among women who have a long history of using the talc powder product for personal hygiene.
A court decision in April 2020 tipped the balance for J&J’s talc business
Just last month, as Cosmetics Design reported, US District Judge Freda Wolfson ruled in Daubert hearings to allow testimony from experts in gynecologic oncology, cancer prevention, and occupational and environmental health in a case identified as Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation (MDL 2738). That decision also meant that some 16,000 talc-related cases against J&J can proceed.
J&J has been going to court or settling talc cases for years. And in 2016, the company was first required to pay monetary damages to the family of Jacqueline Fox, who died of ovarian cancer just months before the conclusion of the case.
And in this week’s announcement about the discontinuation of the talc-based (in contrast to the cornstarch-based) Johnson’s Baby Powder, J&J makes it clear that the company is not backing down in its defense against any pending and future litigation: “We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the [refute] unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom. All verdicts against the Company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned.”
J&J stands behind the safety of its talc products
Johnson & Johnson has, all along, held that its talc products are safe for use as directed. But it’s worth noting that when both J&J and the company’s supplier Imery Talc America were both defendants in a 2016 case, the material safety data sheet (MSDS) that Imery furnished J&J with every shipment included the statement: “Perineal use of the powder is a possible risk factor for ovarian cancer.”
Still, J&J stands by its iconic product and regularly circulates scientific data indicating its safety: “Johnson & Johnson remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder. Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product,” states the company in this week’s announcement.
Inventory already in the US and Canada will be sold through. Going forward, J&J will continue to sell its cornstarch-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in these markets. And the company will sell both varieties of the powder in other markets worldwide.
J&J reorganizes product manufacturing, distribution, and sales in the wake of COVID-19
The talc discontinuation decision ostensibly came out of J&J’s recent “portfolio assessment related to COVID-19.” As a result of that assessment the company discontinued nearly 100 SKUs beyond its line of talc products.
Additionally, “Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health stopped shipping hundreds of items in the US and Canada to prioritize high-demand products and to allow for appropriate social distancing in manufacturing and distribution facilities during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Deanna Utroske is a leading voice in the cosmetics and personal care industry as well as in the indie beauty movement. As Editor of CosmeticsDesign.com, she writes daily news about the business of beauty in the Americas region and regularly produces video interviews with cosmetics, fragrance, personal care, and packaging experts as well as with indie brand founders.
CLICK HERE to read about Deanna’s approach to newsgathering and communication during COVID-19, as recently featured on Publishing Executive.