Johnson & Johnson, the longtime manufacturer of Shower to Shower and Johnson’s Baby Powder, has been sued in more than 1000 lawsuits filed by women who developed ovarian cancer after using J&J’s talc products. Since 1971, scientists have been aware of the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer after researchers in Wales reported finding talc particles embedded in ovarian tumors. In 1982, a Harvard study of 215 ovarian cancer patients found that women who frequently used talcum powder on their genitals and underwear had more than three times the risk of developing ovarian cancer than women in a control group who did not use talcum powder. Since 1982, at least ten published studies of talc use and ovarian cancer reportedly have found similar results.
Two Missouri Juries Find that Johnson & Johnson Hid Cancer Risks Associated with
Despite this knowledge, J&J chose not to place a warning about the risk of ovarian cancer on its talcum powder products. This remained true even after 2006, when J&J’s talc suppliers began to include warnings on the raw product about the danger.
Recently, J&J has been found liable in two separate ovarian cancer lawsuits. In February, a Missouri jury awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder for many years. Just a few months later in May, another Missouri jury awarded $55 million to an ovarian cancer survivor. In both cases, the jury awarded punitive damages, explains Waters Kraus & Paul talc lawyer in the firm’s Texas office, Sara Coopwood.
The punitive damages awards in the two cases are hardly surprising. Consider the evidence from J&J’s own files. The talcum powder maker, through its participation in the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrancy Association (CTFA), took an active role in the release of information to the public concerning talc and ovarian cancer that J&J knew was incorrect and misleading. On July 8, 1992, the CTFA published a paper claiming that “. . . human studies on talc and cancer in industrial settings have shown that industrial exposure to talc . . . presents no significant risk.” Yet, according to a consultant scientist working on a retainer for J&J: “This statement is outright false.” Concerning a CTFA paper dated two years later on November 17, 1994, the same consultant criticized the assertion that the existing studies of the relationship between talcum powder and ovarian cancer were “insufficient to demonstrate any real association.” The consulting scientist observed that by 1994, nine studies had been published demonstrating a statistically significant association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. J&J’s consultant warned that “anybody who denies this, risks that the talc industry will be perceived by the public like it perceives the cigarette industry: denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
Not only did the company hide the dangers and refuse to warn of them, J&J’s internal documents also reveal the company’s game plan for increasing profits by going after Hispanic and African-American women in particular, despite negative publicity about the risks in the health community.
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