On May 21, a New York jury awarded $25 Million in compensatory damages to a mesothelioma survivor who claims her cancer was caused by her long-term use of cosmetic talc products manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. The jury will meet next week to decide whether or not to hit the embattled company with punitive damages on top of the verdict.
This is the 10th successful verdict for plaintiffs who have been injured by talc products since the first such cases went to trial in 2016.
There are more than 14,000 active talc lawsuits in the country, a number that continues to climb in the wake of damning evidence and exposés about Johnson & Johnson’s efforts to hide the presence of asbestos in their talc mines and products. The company continues to claim that its products are safe and have always been free of asbestos.
Why Are Talc Products Dangerous?
The plaintiff in the New York lawsuit used 2 Johnson & Johnson products daily over the course of decades. Talc is a key ingredient in both Johnson’s® Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. Like many women, she followed the information provided by the company in advertisements that encouraged users to apply these products multiple times a day for cleanliness.
What could be harmful about using such seemingly safe products?
In many mines, talc occurs in the same geologic formations as asbestos. Asbestos fibers are extremely small — trying to separate perfectly the talc from the asbestos is extremely difficult, but necessary, especially if one plans on selling that talc to consumers.
Internal communication documents within Johnson & Johnson reveal that the company knew about the issue of asbestos in their talc mines. Instead of alerting regulators or the public, the company kept this crucial safety concern a secret, and changed their testing practices to ensure that asbestos would not be detected.
This is a serious problem, considering the World Health Organization (WHO) consensus is that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, but it may take up to 50 years for symptoms to develop after the time of exposure.
Because initial mesothelioma symptoms might be confused with those of the common cold, many people first learn about mesothelioma only when they are diagnosed. Sadly, mesothelioma is an extremely deadly cancer with no known cure.
Women with ovarian cancer have also come forward and won cases against Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn about the risks associated with their baby powder.
The company allegedly knew that their product could be contaminated by asbestos. They decided the risk was not important and quashed the evidence, never giving consumers a chance to make an informed decision.
J&J’s Recipe for Danger — Boosting Talc Sales While Downplaying Risks
At the same time Johnson & Johnson was sweeping positive asbestos tests under the rug, they were actively courting new users of their talc products.
Advertisements promoted using baby powder liberally, multiple times a day, especially in sensitive areas like the face and genitals. As a recent Reuters investigation shows, the company targeted specific groups of adult users and pushed hard for the ritualized use of their baby powder.
The reasons behind this push were not based on medical need — Johnson & Johnson simply wanted to sell more baby powder. The bottom had dropped out of the infant market for the product because of a 1966 report about 3 children dying after inhaling baby powder.
The marketing campaign was very successful. By the 1990s, most users of baby powder were adults, like the plaintiff in the New York case, who recalled using the product daily since she was a child. Everyday, she shook the bottle a few times and powdered herself. During the application, she created a little cloud of powder, which she inadvertently inhaled.
Never, during any of the decades she used this product, was she warned about the potential dangers of asbestos exposure. The jury decided she should be compensated for her suffering, but no amount of money can undo the alleged damage caused by Johnson & Johnson’s products.
Holding companies accountable for their wrongdoings sends a strong message to all businesses that transparency is what the public needs and deserves. Had Johnson & Johnson been open with consumers about the potential risks of its products, they would not be facing a tidal wave of lawsuits and investor wrath over their handling of talc.
The simple truth is that those involved in healthcare — like hospitals, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies — cannot chase quarterly profits at the expense of the patients they serve.
Yes, there is a price to be paid for transparency, but that price is nothing when it’s compared to the suffering caused to consumers by corporate secrecy.
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