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Johnson & Johnson faces over 34,000 cancer lawsuits, ban of talc baby powder worldwide

Johnson & Johnson Talc Baby Powder Photo: Los Angeles Times

*Johnson & Johnson (J&J) moves to force a shareholder vote to halt sales of its talc-based baby powder across the world, over alleged carcinogenic chrysotile fibres, a type of asbestos, in a sample of the company’s baby product in circulation

*We stand behind the ingredients we use in our products, and Johnson & Johnson has a rigorous testing standard in place to ensure our cosmetic talc is safe, responds J&J

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Sequel to withdrawal of the pharmaceutical company’s products in the United States (US) and Canada, and the associated lawsuits over purported link of its baby powder to cancer cases, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is poised to hold shareholder vote on the issue.

ConsumerConnect learnt the leading healthcare company is now confronted with a pressing decision to force a shareholder vote to stop sales of talc-based baby powder worldwide.

These include markets in the UK and US amid concerns over the alleged product links to cancer cases.

Hitherto, J&J was said to have withdrawn its talc-based baby powder from sale in the US and Canada in 2020.

Accordingly, sales of baby powder have dropped after the US regulators detected carcinogenic chrysotile fibres, a type of asbestos, in a sample of the company’s baby product.

The company is currently facing over 34,000 lawsuits, including many from women who claim they used baby powder and later developed ovarian cancer, The Guardian UK report said.

Talc as world’s softest mineral

Talc, regarded as the world’s softest mineral, is mined in several countries, with uses across industries as diverse as paper, plastics and pharmaceuticals.

Talc’s astringent properties mean it is used to treat nappy rash and for other personal hygiene uses.

However, report indicates talc deposits can sometimes be contaminated with asbestos, a mineral that can cause cancer if its fibres enter the body.

It was learnt that corn starch can be used as a replacement.

Shareholder vote imminent

In view of the mounting legal hassles over the company’s talc powder, a shareholder vote has been proposed by Tulipshare, a London-based investment platform that allows consumers to pool shares in order to meet the threshold to submit resolutions for shareholder votes for product ban worldwide.

It was also gathered that the proposal had been submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to consider if it is eligible ahead of J&J’s annual meeting, scheduled for April 2022.

J&J’s responds to cancer risk allegation

J&J, however, has strongly denied that its baby powder is harmful to consumers.

The pharmaceutical firm said it only pulled the product in North America after a slump in sales “fuelled by misinformation around the safety of the product.”

A company’s spokesperson referenced a 2020 cohort study that found no statistically significant increased risk of ovarian cancer with talc use.

J&J Spokesperson said: “We stand behind the ingredients we use in our products, and Johnson & Johnson has a rigorous testing standard in place to ensure our cosmetic talc is safe.

“Not only is our talc routinely tested to ensure it does not contain asbestos, but our talc has also been tested and confirmed to be asbestos-free by a range of independent laboratories, universities, and global health authorities.”

According to the healthcare company, the barrage of legal claims “have no valid scientific basis.”

J&J’s lawyers, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, have written to the SEC asking that it exclude the shareholder resolution as ineligible because it would affect pending lawsuits in state and Federal courts in the US and in other countries, including “thousands of personal injury claims alleging that talc causes cancer.”

Company spends billions on legal costs, settlements

J&J has already spent billions on costs and settlements, including a $2billion (£1.5billion) judgement by a Missouri appeals court in favour of 22 plaintiffs who had suffered from ovarian cancer.

The company, October 2021, moved the potential liabilities for talc products into a separate company, which then entered bankruptcy in a highly controversial move that could limit its financial exposure, report stated.

J&J ‘hypercritical, unjustifiable’ to continue selling talcum powder products ─MP

Meanwhile, Ian Lavery, a Labour Member of Parliament (MP), last year sponsored an early-day motion in the British Parliament, condemning the “hypercritical and unjustifiable” decision by J&J to continue to sell talcum powder products outside North America.

Lavery said he welcomed the attempt to force a shareholder vote for global ban of the the company’s talc powder.

The lawmaker stated: “It is shocking that products that we know can cause serious illness through contamination with asbestos are still available to buy in the UK, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

“Any action taken against Johnson & Johnson, who continue to profit handsomely from the sale of this harmful substance despite knowing its potential effects, is welcome in my book.”

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