Missouri -- For the last several years, Johnson & Johnson has been battling multiple lawsuits -- many of which they have lost -- due to thousands of claims of their baby powder product giving women cancer. On Thursday, a Missouri jury handed down the largest verdict yet, ordering the pharma giant to pay $4.7 billion to victims.
In this latest case, 22 women alleged the company's talc-based products, including its baby powder, contained the known carcinogen, asbestos, which caused them to develop cancer. According to reports, there are over 9,000 similar talc lawsuits against the company.
Naturally, J&J denies that their product causes cancer and that it contains asbestos. However, a government-funded study from the mid-1990s found that Johnson's baby powder caused cancer in rats and other studies have found an increased risk of cancer in women who used talc-based products. The potential risks have been known to the company for decades.
What's more is the fact that talc in its natural form can contain varying amounts of asbestos and other minerals. If it is not properly filtered, the asbestos can make it through to consumer products.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), and whose major goal is to identify causes of cancer, classifies talc as follows:
- IARC classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans.”
- Based on the lack of data from human studies and on limited data in lab animal studies, IARC classifies inhaled talc not containing asbestos as “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans.”
- Based on limited evidence from human studies of a link to ovarian cancer, IARC classifies the perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Thursday's massive verdict awarded to the women, handed down in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, was comprised of $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network.
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Following the reading of the verdict on the network, J&J's shares fell just one percent showing that the company's image will likely not be tarnished by such a massive blow.
According to CNBC, the women and their families said decades-long use of Baby Powder and other cosmetic talc products caused their diseases. They allege the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since at least the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.
Mark Lanier, the lawyer for the women, released a statement following the verdict and urged J&J to pull its products from the shelf “before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.”
“If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning,” Lanier said.
While the majority of the cases against J&J focus on ovarian cancer caused by the talc itself, others focus on mesothelioma, a tissue cancer known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. This case was a mixture of both and is likely the reason for such a large payout.
Recently, in 2009 and 2010, the Food and Drug Administration claims to have tested multiple samples of J&J's baby powder and said they found no traces of asbestos.
According to Lanier, however, during the trial, he told jurors that the agency and other labs used by J&J implemented flawed methods that did not allow for the proper detection of asbestos fibers as the two minerals are very closely related.
Lanier explained how the two minerals can mix during the mining process and make it nearly impossible to separate the two. J&J denied this claim and noted that they will be appealing the verdict.