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Johnson & Johnson to stop selling Baby Powder talc in US, Canada

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Demand for the iconic talc has fallen due to changing consumer habits and "misinformation" about the product's safety, Johnson & Johnson said.

New York

JOHNSON & Johnson (J&J) on Tuesday announced it would stop selling its Baby Powder talc in the United States and Canada, saying demand had dropped in the wake of what it called "misinformation" about the product's safety amid a barrage of legal challenges.

The company said it had stopped shipping the baby powder when the Covid-19 crisis led to limits on shopping and manufacturing, and that now it would wind down North American sales. "Demand for talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fuelled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising," it said in a statement.

Sold continuously since 1894, Johnson's Baby Powder now accounts for only about 0.5 per cent of its US consumer health business, the company said.

Christie Nordhielm, a professor of marketing at Georgetown, said it appears J&J made its decision to withdraw from the market while consumers are preoccupied with the pandemic. "It's a nice time to quietly do it," she said, adding "it will minimise the reputational hit." Shares of J&J were unchanged in after-hours trading following the disclosure.

J&J faces more than 19,000 lawsuits from consumers and their survivors claiming its talc products caused cancer due to contamination with asbestos, a known carcinogen. Many are pending before a US district judge in New Jersey. In its statement, J&J said it "remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder," citing "decades of scientific studies".

J&J has faced intense scrutiny of the safety of its baby powder following an investigative report by Reuters in 2018 that found the company knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its talc. Internal company records, trial testimony and other evidence show that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company's raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.

The article prompted a stock sell-off that erased about US$40 billion from J&J's market value in one day and created a public relations crisis as the blue-chip healthcare conglomerate faced widespread questions about the possible health effects of one of its most iconic products.

J&J said it will continue to sell cornstarch-based baby powder in North America, and will sell both its talc and cornstarch-based products in other markets around the world. REUTERS

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