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Johnson & Johnson to pay US$110 mn in lawsuit linking its baby powder, shower talc to cancer

The complainant Lois Slemp, 62, said she used J&J’s baby powder and Shower to Shower talc products for more than 40 years before her ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2012. The nurse’s assistant is undergoing chemotherapy and was too ill to attend the trial.

health Updated: Jul 03, 2017 15:57 IST
Johnson and Johnson,Johnson & Johnson,J&J
Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and other talc-based products, which the company says are scientifically safe, are widely used all over the world , including in India.(REUTERS FILE PHOTO)

Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a US jury to pay over $110 million to a Virginia woman who sued the company saying she developed ovarian cancer after decades of using its talc-based products for feminine hygiene.

The plaintiff Lois Slemp, 62, is undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer that was diagnosed in 2012. The retired nurse’s assistant said she used J&J’s baby powder and Shower to Shower talc products for feminine hygiene for more than 40 years before her ovarian cancer diagnosis. Slemp was too ill to attend the trial.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use of talc as “possibly carcinogenic”. Talc is a mineral widely used in cosmetics and other personal care products to absorb moisture. Apart from cosmetics, it is used in other products, including paint and plastics.

Johnson & Johnson is a leading consumer healthcare brand in India and leads in areas of feminine hygiene, facial skincare, wound care, cough and cold, oral care, among others, says the company website.

The company will appeal the verdict. “We are preparing for additional trials this year and will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,’’ said company spokesperson Carol Goodrich. The company’s trial win in March and the New Jersey dismissal last year “highlight the lack of credible scientific evidence behind plaintiffs’ allegations,” Goodrich said.

Slemp, whose cancer has since spread to her liver, also claims Johnson & Johnson talc was contaminated with asbestos, a rare allegation in these cases. The company told the jury its products didn’t cause Slemp’s cancer and don’t contain asbestos.

Company lawyer Orlando Richmond argued that Johnson & Johnson doesn’t need to warn women about talc because there is no link. The company told Food and Drug Administration in 2014 that a warning label should not be put on baby powder because “the science doesn’t warrant it.”

The verdict in state court in St. Louis is the largest so far among the around 2,400 lawsuits accusing Johnson & Johnson of failing to warn consumers about the health and cancer risks of talc-based products, including its popular Johnson’s Baby Powder.

J&J lost jury verdicts of $72 million, $55 million and $70 million last year, while winning the first trial in 2017. The company is appealing the trial losses. A New Jersey state court judge last year threw out two talc cases set for trial, finding inadequate scientific support for the claims. That decision is also on appeal.

First Published: May 05, 2017 13:45 IST