Two recent trials in St. Louis, Missouri resulted in multi-million dollar jury verdicts against giant pharmaceutical manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson. In both cases, the jury found that Johnson & Johnson was aware that its products containing talcum powder, when used for feminine hygiene, had been linked to the development of ovarian cancer, but still failed to warn consumers of the dangers of these products. The two products involved in the two trials were Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower.
$127 Million in Jury Verdicts Against Johnson & Johnson
The first trial resulted in a $72 million jury verdict in favor of an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer at age 62 after more than thirty five years of using Johnson & Johnson talc-based products for feminine hygiene. The second trial resulted in a $55 million jury verdict in favor of a 62 year old South Dakota woman who developed ovarian cancer, but survived it, after many years of genital use of Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower.
What is Talc?
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral mined from the earth that is made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Talc is considered to be the softest known mineral. As a powder, it absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes. It is widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders, as well as in a number of other consumer products.
Linking Talc to Ovarian Cancer
Since 1971 nearly two dozen research studies have linked the long-term use of talc-based products for feminine hygiene purposes to ovarian cancer. During the two recent St. Louis trials details of a number of these studies were presented to the jury, along with several internal Johnson & Johnson documents that demonstrated Johnson & Johnson’s knowledge of the talc/ovarian cancer link and the company’s intentional decision not to warn consumers of this link. In fact, trial testimony in St. Louis definitively established that by at least 1982, Johnson & Johnson was aware of the 1971 study linking talc and ovarian cancer (See attached document).
Talc Particles Deeply Embedded in Cancerous Tissue
The 1971 research study found talc particles deeply embedded within the cancerous ovarian tumor tissues (see attached document). In both of the recent St. Louis trials, talc was also found deeply embedded in the cancerous ovarian tumor tissues. A 1997 letter from a Johnson & Johnson consultant to the company’s toxicology department manager noted that “[s]everal investigators have independently reported talc particles in ovarian tissue.” This same consultant’s letter further noted that “a ‘real’ statistically significant association [between talc and ovarian cancer] has been established independently by several investigators.”
“Outright False” Claim By Johnson & Johnson
One of the most damaging documents presented to the juries in the two recent St. Louis trials was a September 1997 letter from a Johnson & Johnson consultant to the company’s toxicology department manager. The consultant refuted Johnson & Johnson’s claim that the talc in its talcum powder was so harmless that exposure to it at levels thousands of times higher than lifetime consumer exposure presented no significant risk, calling this claim “outright false.”
Marketing Talc-Based Products to Black, Hispanic Women
In 1992, Johnson & Johnson determined that it needed to address declining sales of its Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products. By then, word had circulated of some of the studies linking long-term genital use of talc-based products to ovarian cancer, leading to reduced sales of these two products to White female consumers. To increase the sales of Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower, Johnson & Johnson decided to focus its marketing of these products to Black women, Hispanic women, and/or overweight women. Internal Johnson & Johnson documents confirmed this new marketing strategy approach. Rather than warn consumers of the dangerous link between the long-term genital use of talc-based products and ovarian cancer, Johnson & Johnson instead sought to more aggressively target different consumers – Black women, Hispanic women, and overweight women (see attached document). The blank spaces [redactions] in the attached marketing memo refer to Black women, Hispanic women, and overweight women.
Removal of Hazardous Warning Labels
In both of the recent St. Louis trials the supplier of talc to Johnson & Johnson was named as a defendant. In both trials, however, despite ruling against Johnson & Johnson, the jury found in favor of the supplier. Unlike Johnson & Johnson, the talc supplier did not sell to consumers, but sold only to companies like Johnson & Johnson. In mining the talc, the supplier’s employees wore protected gear and marked the mined talc for shipping with hazardous warning labels. Upon receipt of the mined talc, Johnson & Johnson removed the hazardous warning labels, never warning consumers of the dangers of talc.
Johnson & Johnson is Aware of its Duty to Warn Consumers
Johnson & Johnson is well aware of its responsibility to provide warnings on its products for uses that might cause harm to consumers. Consistent with that responsibility it does provide a warning on its talc-based Baby Powder product. It warns against inhaling the powder or getting it in one’s eyes. Notwithstanding more than thirty years of knowledge, Johnson & Johnson still doesn’t warn consumers of the dangerous link to ovarian cancer of the genital use of its talc-based Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products. Instead, even in the two recent losing St. Louis trials, Johnson & Johnson continues to insist that its talc-based Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products are safe for long-term genital use and pose no risk of ovarian cancer.
Business as Usual for Johnson & Johnson
As of June 5, 2016, Johnson & Johnson has not recalled its talc-based Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower products from store shelves, agreed to add a warning label on the containers nor funded a community awareness campaign to educate consumers on the dangerous link to ovarian cancer of the genital use of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower.