NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Johnson & Johnson (J&J) kept selling its original talc baby powder in the 1970’s, even after bringing its non-toxic cornstarch version to store shelves as a safer alternative.
But now, decades later, the powder that has been one of the company’s most popular products has cost the Brunswick-based pharmaceutical giant $72 million, the result of a February 24 jury verdict in St. Louis, Missouri.
It marks the first time a jury has ordered J&J to pay damages over claims it knowingly sold products containing talc, but decided not to warn consumers about the risk of cancer.
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence,” said J&J spokeswoman Carol Goodrich.
A Missouri state jury decided the company must pay $62 million as a “punitive,” or punishment award, plus another $10 million in compensatory damages to the family of Jackie Fox.
Fox used J&J’s talc-based baby powder, and its newer product, “Shower to Shower,” for several decades before succumbing to ovarian cancer last fall at age 62.
“In an audio deposition, the Birmingham, Ala., native…recounted 35 years of using Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder…Fox had used them for feminine hygiene, and she believed they were what ultimately killed her,” says a Washington Post report.
Fox used both Johnson’s Baby Powder, as well as at least one other talc-based product made by J&J for many, many, years.
She remembered watching a 1998 television commercial for Shower to Shower: “Just a sprinkle a day, helps keep odor away…Have you had your sprinkle today?”
But J&J reportedly knew of the link between the mineral talc and cancer as early as 1979, according to Fox’s attorney.
As we reported, the verdict, and the costly punitive damages, are sure to make J&J’s attorneys consider settling as many as 1,200 similar lawsuits, including more than 130 filed in the company’s home state of New Jersey.
Talc is used in products such as wallboard and as an ingredient in a powder to prevent baloons from sticking to each other.
Baby powder is also the product of choice among professional and recreational billiards players, who use it as a lubricant for the cue, while making a bridge with the hand to slide the cue in. It’s common to see a container of Johnson’s Baby Powder in most pool rooms.
“Baby powder is estimated to be an $18.8 million market in the U.S., according to the Statistic Brain Research Group. About 19 percent of U.S. households use J&J’s brand, according to another research group, Statista,” reported Bloomberg.
“The jury foreman, Krista Smith [39-years-old], called the company’s internal documents ‘decisive’ for jurors, who reached the verdict after four hours of deliberations,” says the Bloomberg report.
“It was really clear they were hiding something,” said Smith. “All they had to do was put a warning label on.”
Over two years ago, a South Dakota jury said talc contributed to a 49-year-old woman’s death from ovarian cancer, and tied its use to the risk of cancer in woman. But that jury did not award damages of any type.
Similarly, in that case, the woman also used talcum-based products for feminine hygiene over several decades.
As we reported, another talcum-powder ovarian cancer lawsuit was filed in Somerset County Superior Court. But now all of the Garden State’s talc cases have been consolidated in Atlantic County.
Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.