The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) announced that Johnson & Johnson decided to discontinue selling its talcum baby powder in the U.S. and Canada due to a significant decline in consumer demand. The company attributes the significant reduction in sales to claims that the product poses a health risk, which caused an overwhelming increase in the number of lawsuits over the last several years.
The WSJ stated that "As of March, about 19,400 plaintiffs had filed lawsuits against the company over its talc-based powder in U.S. courts." Victims primarily claimed that the talc caused cancer, specifically ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. When mined, talc is subject to asbestos contamination because both minerals can be intermingled underground. This had been a concern of Johnson & Johnson for years as found in company documents. The discovery of these files sparked inquiries by government agencies. Continually defending that its talc powder is safe, Johnson & Johnson received another blow to its wholesome image last October when it recalled "about 33,000 bottles of its baby powder after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said a laboratory test found a small amount of asbestos in one bottle." Despite conducting follow-on tests on the same bottle and lot by independent labs, which did not find asbestos, creating a website to inform the public about the facts about talc, and new marketing strategies, Johnson & Johnson hasn't been able to restore consumer confidence.
Discontinuing talc-baby powder sales in North America does not mean an admission of guilt on Johnson & Johnson's end. In fact, the company maintains the product's safety and vows to vigorously defend it, and will continue to offer it in other countries. In a statement made earlier this week, Johnson & Johnson stated, “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." Its retailers will be allowed to sell their supply of the talc-based formula until they run out. As for the plaintiffs, the WSJ reported that one of its lawyers said, “I’m delighted to hear that they finally started taking steps to remove talc-based baby powder from the market."
Despite the disappointing slump in sales and barrage of litigation from one of its products, Johnson & Johnson stays competitive with its research, development, and sales of medical devices, pharmaceutical, and consumer packaged goods. It has held on to its roots when its founders started the company based on creating a line of ready-to-use surgical dressings in 1885. Its brands today include numerous household names of medications and first aid supplies. Its ability to survive the constant change of consumer habits and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic, is highlighted by its product diversification in areas that are considered essential, i.e. healthcare and science fields. The WSJ pointed out that, "Johnson’s Baby Powder represents about 0.5% of the company’s U.S. consumer-health sales. The business reported nearly $1.5 billion in sales last year, a fraction of J&J’s more than $82 billion in total global sales for the year."