In the first of what looks to be many cases involving accusations that Johnson & Johnson knew about and covered up the potential link between its talcum-based products and ovarian cancer, a jury in Missouri has ordered the the mega firm to pay $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after using the product regularly for feminine hygiene.
In 2014, an Alabama woman named Jacqueline Fox was one of numerous women with ovarian cancer who filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, accusing the healthcare products giant of deliberately ignoring and hiding scientific evidence showing a potential link between the use of talc based products like baby powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene and an increase in the risk of ovarian cancer.
The complaint cited studies going back as far as 1971 that suggested the link exists. According to the lawsuit, after a 1982 study on the issue found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who used talc-based products around their genitals, the researcher behind that study directly advised a J&J doctor to place a warning label on the Shower to Shower and Baby Powder products.
A decade later, following the release of other studies claiming a link between use of talc and increased cancer risk, J&J helped to form the Talc Interested Party Task Force.
“The stated purpose of the TIPTF was to pool financial resources of these companies in an effort to collectively defend talc use at all costs and to prevent regulation of any type over this industry,” reads the complaint. “The TIPTF hired scientists to perform biased research regarding the safety of talc, members of the TIPTF edited scientific reports of the scientists hired by this group prior the submission of these scientific reports to governmental agencies, members of the TIPTF knowingly released false information about the safety of talc to the consuming public, and used political and economic influence on regulatory bodies regarding talc.”
While J&J and others continued to defend the use of talcum powder in feminine hygiene products, the condom industry halted the mineral’s use in the mid-1990s amid the growing concerns about its link to ovarian cancer risk.
About a decade ago, the World Health Organization’s International Association for the Research of Cancer declared that “There is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of perineal use of talc-based body powder,” meaning that “a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible.”
Around this same time, at least one talc supplier began including warnings on the product it supplied to J&J. The plaintiffs contend that this alone should have given J&J reason to be aware of the potential cancer risk link.
Following the trial, the state-court jury found J&J liable for failure to warn, negligence, and conspiracy, resulting in $10 million in damages. The company was also found liable in the wrongful death of Ms. Fox, who passed away in 2015, leading to a total of $62 million in punitive damages.
This is just one of around 1,200 cases currently being pursued against J&J in courts in Missouri and New Jersey.
In response to the verdict, a J&J rep told Reuters that “We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
Johnson’s Baby Powder still contains talc, though the company now makes versions of the product that use corn starch instead.