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Johnson & Johnson's baby powder discontinuation: 3 things to know

Lawsuits alleging that using Johnson & Johnson's talc-based baby powder caused cancer have made headlines for over five years.

The lawsuits claim that the talc contains asbestos, a known carcinogen. People diagnosed with cancer-either mesothelioma or ovarian cancer-say it was caused by their regular use of the powder, promoted as smooth and gentle enough for babies, and some juries have sided with them: a 2018 decision awarded $4.7 billion to a group of 22 women. Now Johnson & Johnson has taken a big step in response, while also maintaining that the product is safe.

On May 19, the company announced it is discontinuing the sale of its baby power in the U.S. and Canada. The company has not admitted that the product can cause cancer; rather, it claims the decision was made as part of a "portfolio reassessment related to COVID-19" due to reduced sales.

Key factors to keep in mind

Here are three things to know about Johnson & Johnson's baby powder discontinuation:

It differs from a recall: You can still buy talc-based baby powder, if you can find it in your area. Bottles of the talc-based baby powder already on retailer shelves will continue to be sold until they run out. The company also will still sell its cornstarch-based baby powder in North America, so check the bottle for the base ingredients if you want to use baby powder but are concerned about talc. The discontinuation also is only effective in the U.S. and Canada; the company will still sell the talc-based option in other countries.

Johnson & Johnson insists the talc-based option is safe: In its announcement, linked above, the company says it "remains steadfastly confident" in the safety of the product, adding that "Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the word support the safety of our product." The company says there is higher demand for the product in other countries, and that sales in North America dropped due to "changes in consumer habits" and what it deems as "misinformation" about the safety of the product.

There is historical evidence the company had asbestos concerns: Johnson & Johnson developed the cornstarch-based baby powder alternative in 1980, after consumer advocates raised concerns about asbestos in talc. Both asbestos and talc are mined substances which can be intermingled underground. Additionally, previous litigation unearthed internal memos and reports showing that Johnson & Johnson has been worried about asbestos in its talc for 50 years.

Moving forward with talc-based product concerns

There were 19,400 lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson related to talc-based body powders as of late March. Other talc-based cosmetic products have come under suspicion, such as eye shadow palettes marketed to children and sold on Amazon.

If you think your long-time use of a talc-based product may have contributed to your cancer diagnosis, it would be beneficial to consult with a products liability attorney.

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