Black women's group sues J&J over targeted talc marketing—and demands new ads to counteract the old

An advocacy group says Johnson & Johnson has yet to make things right with Black women after years of targeted talc powder advertising—so it's suing.

The National Council of Negro Women filed a lawsuit this week asking the courts to force J&J to create equally targeted “corrective marketing” and or alternatively fund outreach efforts to "warn" Black women and their families about the possibility of developing ovarian cancer. 

Represented by powerhouse civil rights attorney Ben Crump, the women’s group laid out a litany of specific ways J&J has targeted Black women over the years in marketing its talc powder products.

Some of those claims include hiring an African American specialty ad agency, detailing media reports of J&J documents that specify Black women as a target group, hiring a firm to hand out 100,000 samples in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago, and launching a radio campaign in southern states aimed at “curvy southern women 18-49 skewing African American,” according to the suit posted on

J&J pulled its talc products from U.S. shelves in 2020 citing a drop-off in demand.

J&J said the accusations are false. “[T]he idea that our company would purposefully and systematically target a community with bad intentions is unreasonable and absurd,” the company said in a statement to Fierce Pharma.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson weighs talc bankruptcy as billions in legal costs pile up: report

“We empathize with anyone suffering from cancer and understand that people are looking for answers,” but those answers have been provided through “decades of independent scientific testing by medical experts around the world has confirmed that our products are safe, do not contain asbestos, and do not cause cancer,” the statement said.

Crump and the NCNW’s argument that J&J targeted Black women is not new: A bombshell Reuters report in 2018 detailed many of the efforts laid out in NCNW’s lawsuit, and individual Black plaintiffs have spoken out about how they felt targeted.

However, it is the first organized advocacy group lawsuit with a specific push for new marketing efforts to undo the purported advertising damage.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson scores in talc appeals as NJ court knocks down $117M verdict

NCNW acknowledged in its court filing that Black women and their families have received verdicts for damages from J&J, but said those individual wins don’t address the larger Black community.

“Those suits have not remedied the specific harm that J&J has caused to the Black community—and to Black women in particular—by targeting their advertisements for this dangerous product at them,” the lawsuit claims. “That harm is continuing and will remain for as long as J&J fails to take affirmative, corrective action to inform the Black women who were previously targeted by J&J’s targeted advertising campaign.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear J&J’s appeal to overturn a $2.1 billion in damages in a Missouri case of 20 women or families of women who had ovarian cancer. More than 25,000 additional lawsuits remain pending.

In an early 2021 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, J&J detailed its 2020 litigation expense as “primarily associated with talc related reserves and certain settlements” worth $3.9 billion.