By Susan Engstrom
Declining demand has been "fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising," the company says.
Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health will permanently discontinue the commercialization of its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America, the company announced yesterday. Its decision followed a March portfolio assessment related to COVID-19, pursuant to which the company had stopped shipping hundreds of items in the United States and Canada to prioritize high-demand products and to allow for appropriate social distancing in manufacturing and distribution facilities during the pandemic. Johnson’s Baby Powder represents approximately 0.5 percent of the total U.S. Consumer Health business.
In its announcement, the company reported that demand for its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and misinformation surrounding the product’s safety. Asserting that decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder, the company vowed to continue its vigorous defense of the product in the courtroom. According to its announcement, all verdicts against Johnson & Johnson that have been through the appeals process have been overturned.
The company said that it will wind down the commercialization of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada in the coming months and that existing inventory will continue to be sold through retailers until it runs out. Cornstarch-based Johnson’s Baby Powder will remain available in North America. Both types of Johnson’s Baby Powder—talc-based and cornstarch-based—will continue to be sold in other markets around the world where there is significantly higher consumer demand for the product.
Oversight Subcommittee weighs in. Following Johnson & Johnson’s announcement, U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, issued this statement: "Today, in a major victory for public health, Johnson & Johnson’s asbestos-containing baby powder finally will be taken off store shelves. My Subcommittee’s 14-month investigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its product contains asbestos, and the company fought to keep using a testing method that never would have allowed it to be detected. Today’s victory means that children and families no longer will be endangered by this baby powder."
In a May 19 press release, the Subcommittee laid out the time line of its investigation:
- On March 12, 2019, the Subcommittee held its first hearing on the health risks of asbestos in talc-containing consumer products, focusing on Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder.
- On December 10, 2019, the Subcommittee held a hearing addressing the best methods for detecting asbestos in talc. The hearing remained focused on the significant presence of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and the company’s insufficient testing methods to detect asbestos. The Subcommittee put forth recommended testing improvements for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to adopt.
- Within one month of the hearing, the FDA announced that it would hold an open meeting on that topic, after having left it unaddressed for years. Through its Interagency Working Group, the FDA included preliminary recommendations that mirrored all but one of the Subcommittee’s recommendations raised at the December hearing.
- On March 3, 2020, Chairman Krishnamoorthi sent a letter to the FDA encouraging it to adopt the most stringent testing methods to detect carcinogenic asbestos in consumer talc-based products. The FDA is still weighing that decision.
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