Citing a COVID-19 portfolio review—not lawsuits—J&J pulls baby powder from U.S. market

Johnson & Johnson says it's pulling its talc-based powders from the U.S. and Canadian markets. But the move comes as the drugmaker faces thousands of personal injury lawsuits over the product's safety—and as demand has fallen due to years of publicity about the legal fight.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, J&J stopped shipping certain products—including its iconic baby powder—back in March to allow its factories to make high-demand medicines and to allow workers to spread out for social distancing reasons, the company said in a statement.

Now, it's permanently discontinuing about 100 products, including its talc-based powders. As of a recent quarterly filing, J&J faced 19,400 lawsuits alleging harm from talc. Many lawsuits allege the products cause ovarian cancer, while others focus on claims linking them to mesothelioma.

Meanwhile, J&J notes that demand has fallen “due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.” 

Still, the company says it is “steadfastly confident” in talc powder safety and will continue to defend itself in court. J&J has been ordered to pay costly jury verdicts, but each verdict that has made it through the appeals process so far has been overturned, the company notes. A jury in 2018 ordered the company to pay a whopping $4.7 billion verdict that's still under appeal.  

The company's move to pull the powders follows a judge’s recent decision to allow five expert witnesses for the plaintiffs to testify on talc safety, the New Jersey Law Journal  reports. Judge Freda Wolfson, who is overseeing talc multidistrict litigation in New Jersey, also allowed three expert witnesses for J&J to testify.  

At the time, lawyers for the plaintiffs said the decision could pave the way for bellwether trials to establish damages for thousands of lawsuits. 

RELATED: J&J's good news, bad news day in talc court yields win in South Carolina, $25M loss in New York

In a statement Tuesday, Ted Meadows, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the company "did today what they should have done decades ago." He said the lawyers plan to keep bringing cases to trial around the U.S.

Looking forward, cornstarch-based baby powder will be available in North America, and both types of the powder will be available in other countries around the world. Retailers will continue selling talc-based powder until it runs out, J&J said.