J&J removes talc from baby powder

You might have noticed when you do your grocery shopping and have to buy things for babies and children that there are now different Johnson and Johnson (J&J) powder varieties.

In addition to the traditional talc-based powder, you can now get, among other things, something with cornstarch, or rice and milk.

It turns out this is the beginning of the gradual phaseout of J&J’s “legacy” talcum powder, which has been a part of many babies’ lives for decades.  

The United States-based century-old J&J, considered “by most measures (as the) single largest pharma company in the world” and “one of the most well-known drugmakers” (pharmaphorum.com), has been traditionally associated with baby products by consumers.

Now the company, according to recent media reports, would have the talcum powder out of the global consumer market by 2023. 

Business reports attributed this decision to lawsuits filed against the conglomerate by people, women in particular, who alleged the baby powder led to their developing cancer. Complainants claimed the company hid cancer risks associated with the talc-based baby powder.

India-based NDTV.com said talc had long been used in baby products because the mineral keeps skin dry and prevents diaper rash. However, the mines that produce the powder can also yield asbestos, a mineral that researchers have linked to cancers. 

J&J said it planned to stop selling its legacy talc-based baby-powder products globally in 2023, a move that comes amid continued legal battles and years after the company discontinued the product in the US and Canada.

The health conglomerate said it made the “commercial decision” to transition all its baby powder products to use cornstarch instead of talcum powder after conducting an assessment of its portfolio. Some consumer companies have found that corn starch can offer the same benefits of talc without the asbestos risk.

J&J, which maintains the talc-based product is safe, has for almost a decade faced lawsuits accusing it of hiding cancer risks tied to its baby powder.

CNN Business’ Jordan Valinsky reported that J&J’s talc-based powder had actually not been sold in the US and Canada since 2020, presumably because it “is at the center of tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by women who have developed ovarian cancer after using regular talcum powder”.

He added, “A 2018 jury verdict out of state court in St. Louis (Missouri) ultimately forced J&J to pay US$2.5 billion to 20 women who targeted its baby powder for their ovarian cancer.” 

Valinsky said, “Some scientific studies have shown that women have an increased risk of ovarian cancer with talc use in the genital area, but others do not.” 

Many talcum powder products – including J&J Baby Powder – have reportedly been linked to ovarian cancer due to confirmed reports of asbestos contamination. Ovarian cancer is one of three types of cancers allegedly caused by J&J Baby Powder and other talcum powder products. Talc products have also been known to cause mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure and has no known cure, and lung cancer. 

Talc minerals typically form near asbestos deposits when they are formed. 

When talc is mined, there is a high chance of asbestos contamination. 

But J&J, Valinsky said, remained confident in the safety of its product,
its “position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged”.

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