On May 19, 2020, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”), announced that it would permanently halt production of its controversial talc-based baby powder throughout the North American market, including in the United States and Canada. In public comments made by the company in the announcement, J&J indicated that the decision was made for economic reasons and not tied to product safety, alluding to the thousands of lawsuits currently facing the company that allege its talc-based products cause cancer and contains asbestos.
J&J reported that at the on set of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it reexamined its portfolio and decided to halt production of products that were not in high demand in order to shift production efforts to in-demand products. Sales of J&J baby powder have declined in recent years due to consumer concerns over the safety of the product. J&J also alleged that its decision was based on concerns about the protection of J&J employees and the ability to maintain proper social distancing in factories.
However, while production of talc-based baby powder products has ceased, J&J has said that it will continue to sell its remaining stock of the product in both the United States and Canada until supplies have been diminished. Additionally, J&J has said that it will continue to sell and produce its talc-alternative, cornstarch-based baby powder.
Johnson & Johnson’s announcement comes after the company voluntarily recalled its talc-based baby powder in October 2019, following an FDA announcement that it had found trace levels of asbestos in samples taken of the product. In April 2020, Johnson & Johnson lost its bid to exclude plaintiffs’ experts’ testimony as to whether the product contains asbestos and can cause ovarian cancer in the Talc multidistrict litigation which includes around 16,000 pending cases.
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