History of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder & the Mounting Lawsuits Against the “Family Company”

Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder came on the scene toward the end of the 19th century. The product was invented by Dr. Frederick B. Kilmer in the 1890s. It was first recommended for easing skin irritation caused by medicated plasters, but it later became popular among postpartum mothers. Demand increased, and J&J soon became a household name.

By 1985, more than 70% of Americans used J&J baby powder daily. However, research in the 1970s began pointing toward a possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Researchers discovered talc particles in ovarian tumors. In 1982, researcher Daniel Cramer reported a link between talc and ovarian cancer. His research was followed by further studies that found an increased risk of ovarian cancer among women who regularly used talcum powder. Cramer has since become a frequent expert witness in lawsuits against J&J. He has also advised J&J to include a cancer warning on its products.

Some of these studies have shown that women who regularly use talcum powder on their genitals may face an increase in overall risk of ovarian cancer by 30%. The research also shows a dose-response: the risk increased the longer a woman used talc, or the more applications she had done over time. In the U.S., a woman has a 1 in 70 chance of developing ovarian cancer. According to the epidemiological studies done, talc use changes those odds to 1 in 53. Roughly 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and more than 14,000 succumb to the disease every year.  

J&J Bypasses FDA Review

Talcum powder falls into the cosmetic product category. Thus, J&J was not required to obtain FDA approval before bringing the product on the market. Under the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetics such as J&J’s Baby Powder do not require FDA approval. However, Congress is considering updating the law to give the FDA more authority over such products. As of now, there is no requirement for J&J or other cosmetic companies to receive FDA approval to verify the safety of their products.

No Cancer Warning on Baby Powder

Despite verdicts largely favoring plaintiffs against J&J, the FDA has still not required the company to add cancer to their products’ warning labels. Because baby powder is considered to be a “cosmetic product,” J&J and other companies producing it are responsible for the safety and labeling of their own products and ingredients. However, they are not required to share that safety information with the FDA.

The FDA also rejected a 2014 petition to require the labels, claiming there was not sufficient evidence to justify such a requirement. And despite multiple courtroom losses and growing medical evidence, J&J continues to maintain the safety of its talcum powder products.

Ovarian Cancer Lawsuits Against J&J

Since 2013, J&J has spent more than $5 billion to resolve claims against its drugs and medical devices. More than 5,000 lawsuits are currently pending against J&J and Imerys Talc America—J&J’s talc supplier—with claims that the companies knew about the link between talc and ovarian cancer for years and failed to warn consumers.

Last year, J&J lost three trials in St. Louis, Missouri, totaling more than $300 million in damages. This May, the company was ordered to pay $110.5 million to a Virginia woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using Baby Powder for several decades. The most recent award was the largest yet. In September, a Los Angeles jury awarded Eva Echevarria $417 million. However, a Los Angeles judge tossed that verdict last week, citing jury misconduct and lack of evidence to support the punitive damages.

Why the Fight?

While J&J Baby Powder was originally marketed to postpartum mothers, it soon came to be widely recognized as an essential for infant care. The scent of baby powder has become iconic in our society. In fact, in blind tests, the scent of J&J’s Baby Powder is recognized more often than that of chocolate, coconut or mothballs. Beginning in the early 1900s, J&J marketed the product to women as well—so much so that by 1985, 70% of J&J Baby Powder users were adults.

But when it comes to revenue, Baby Powder is a drop in the bucket for J&J. The company is worth around $70 billion, most of which comes from medical devices and pharmaceuticals. In 2014, J&J’s talcum powder products earned the company about $374 million. With less than 1% of its revenue coming from these potentially harmful products, why is J&J insistent on fighting the accusations and leaving cancer warning labels off the products?

It may be more about the brand than the money. Baby Powder is the iconic product that made Johnson & Johnson a household name. If its baby powder is deemed unsafe, trust in the brand as a whole could suffer. The value of J&J’s Baby Powder is far more than the revenue it brings in. It is the product that launched the brand, and as such, J&J is likely to continue touting its safety and fighting claims to the contrary.

“The evidence connecting talc with ovarian cancer is becoming increasingly difficult for J&J to deny. It is time for the company to put the safety of women ahead of their profits and brand perception,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured by a defective product and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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