Johnson & Johnson announced on Aug. 11 that it is transitioning all of its baby powder products from talc-based to cornstarch-based. As a result, talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder will be discontinued globally by 2023. Cornstarch-based versions of the products are already sold around the world.
The company states that it decided to discontinue the products after continuous evaluation and efforts to optimize the business for long-term growth. It reports that the transition will simplify product options, provide sustainable innovation and meet customers’ needs.
However, it ended sales of talc-based powder in the U.S. and Canada two years ago following more than 40,000 consumer safety lawsuits. For example, in 2017, a jury awarded $417 million to a California woman who developed ovarian cancer after using the powder for decades.
Many of the lawsuits involved women with ovarian cancer or mesothelioma and accused Johnson & Johnson of being aware of the links between talc baby powder and health risks, such as asbestos contamination. Nevertheless, the company continues to assert that its talc-based baby powder products are safe.
“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged,” the company said in its statement. “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.”
Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest consumer health company by sales, announced its plan to split into two public companies last year. In October, the company assigned all talc claims to its spun-off subsidiary, LTL Management.
Immediately after doing so, the subsidiary filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief, which paused about 38,000 pending lawsuits from consumers and their survivors. The company also faced $3.5 billion in verdicts and settlements before filing bankruptcy, including a $2 billion judgment awarded to 22 women.
If a federal appellate court allows pending cases to proceed, attorneys could introduce Johnson & Johnson’s decision to discontinue talc-based powder as evidence that the company is aware of its health risks.
“If these cases were to go again, then it’s a very big deal,” Ben Whiting, an attorney with the plaintiffs firm Keller Postman, told CNBC.