In a first of its kind decision, a St. Louis jury not only found that evidence indicated that Johnson & Johnson talcum powder caused a woman’s fatal ovarian cancer but also that the company knew about the possible dangers associated with its use. The jury found that Johnson & Johnson completely failed to act on this information and was ordered to pay some $72 million in damages as a result.
$10 million of the award was in compensation to the woman’s family. The remaining $62 million was doled out as punishment after the jury used internal J&J documents to determine that the corporation knew about a possible link between cancer and its talc-based product line for decades and did nothing about it.
Johnson & Johnson continues to manufacture talc-based products and insists that it is a safe ingredient, despite switching their baby powder products to a cornstarch base back in the 1970s.
At issue in the St. Louis case was the victim’s use of talc powder as a feminine hygiene product – something Johnson & Johnson had marketed since the late 80s. Readers may remember the “Shower to Shower” product line because of the “sprinkle a day keeps odor away” advertisements.
While talc is found in a variety of other consumer products ranging from building materials to balloons, baby powder is a huge market for the substance; estimated to be an $18.8 million market in the US alone. Close to 20% of the US market is dominated by J&J’s brand.
Knowing their market position and the dangers posed to the public by such wide use of the ingredient, the fact that Johnson & Johnson chose to try to hide the dangers of talc is especially disturbing. As St. Louis jury foreman Krista Smith explains, “It was really clear they [Johnson & Johnson] were hiding something. All they had to do was put a warning label on [the product].”
Talc powder’s link to ovarian cancer is a rapidly evolving story and one that Lopez McHugh is keeping a close eye on. As more and more cases revolve around the use of talc in the feminine hygiene market, Johnson & Johnson’s public deception may play a more central role. Victims and their families deserve, and should demand, justice if such a deception occurred.