In the first of what looks to be many verdicts and/or settlements involving allegations that Johnson & Johnson ignored a possible link between cancer and its talcum-based products, a jury in Missouri has ordered the company to pay a total of $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer.
In 2014, an Alabama woman named Jacqueline Fox was one of dozens of women with ovarian cancer who sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging that the healthcare products giant deliberately turned a blind eye to scientific evidence showing a possible link between the use of talcum powder in the female genital area and an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
The complaint cites studies going back to 1971 that suggest this 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 their products.
A decade later, following the release of other studies claiming a link between talcum powder use 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.
Last night, 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 tells 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.