Johnson & Johnson to stop selling baby powder in US and Canada

20 May 2020, 07:51 | Updated: 20 May 2020, 10:48

Johnson & Johnson is to stop selling its talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder in the US and Canada, saying demand had dropped because of "misinformation" about the product's safety.

The pharmaceutical giant is facing more than 16,000 lawsuits from consumers, who claim that its talc products caused cancer due to contamination with asbestos - a known carcinogen.

The healthcare firm has said while it "remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder," citing "decades of scientific studies", it admitted demand had slumped.

"Demand for talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fuelled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising," said a statement.

The company added that the decision to stop shipping the baby powder - sold continuously since 1894, and which makes up around 0.5% of its US consumer health business - is part of a wider move to discontinue around 100 consumer health products due to limits on manufacturing and distribution caused by the coronavirus.

Johnson & Johnson is now facing claims it made the decision to withdraw from the market while consumers are preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's a nice time to quietly do it", said Christie Nordhielm, a professor of marketing at Georgetown, adding that "it will minimise the reputational hit".

Shares of Johnson & Johnson were unaffected in after-hours trading following its announcement.

It said: "We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the 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."

Johnson & Johnson is appealing against a 2018 verdict that ordered it to pay $4.7bn (£3.8bn) in damages to 22 women who claim its talc products caused their ovarian cancer.

The thousands of other lawsuits being prepared were given the go-ahead by a judge last month, although they face limits on what expert testimony would be allowed in trials.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

One of the women set to receive damages, Krystal Kim, said the company's decision to stop selling the baby powder was "a step in the right direction".

Crystal Deckard, whose mother Darlene Coker alleged Johnson's Baby Powder caused her mesothelioma, said: "I wish my mother could be here to see this day."

Ms Coker dropped her suit, filed in 1999, after losing her fight to compel the firm to divulge internal records.

She died from mesothelioma - an incurable cancer mainly affecting the lining of lungs, which is commonly caused by asbestos - in 2009, aged 52.

Some lawyers believe legal challenges are likely to continue despite the decision to stop selling the baby powder.

"Just taking it off the shelf today doesn't end the litigation by a long shot," said Professor Adam Zimmerman, from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.