Despite losing a $70 million (R970m) lawsuit in the US courts this week, health care giant Johnson and Johnson (J&J) appears to have no plans to remove talcum powder products from local shelves. J&J said it would be appealing against the finding and would maintain its stance that the baby powder is safe for use.
But what is this talcum powder? Talcum is made from talc, a mineral made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. As a powder, it absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes. It is widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders, as well as in a number of other consumer products ( http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/talcum-powder-and-cancer ) .
The Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) said it was fully behind the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which had classified “talc” as possibly carcinogenic to humans. This follows the verdict for an American woman who took J&J to court, alleging years of use of their baby talcum powder caused her ovarian cancer. Commenting on the win, Cansa’s Professor Michael Herbst said: “We support the agency findings that there is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of perineal use of talc-based body powder, and Cansa will continue to respect and endorse the IARC classification of talc’ as a Group2B carcinogen.”
Deborah Giannecchini, 62, used J&J baby powder for 40 years until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago, according to her lawyers. The St Louis court heard that she had undergone surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and had an 80% chance of dying. The jury returned the verdict after three hours of deliberations.
J&J spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said “Unfortunately, the jury’s decision goes against 30 years of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc. “We understand that women and families affected by ovarian cancer are searching for answers and we deeply sympathise with all who have been affected by this devastating disease with no known cause.” She added that multiple scientific and regulatory reviews had determined that talc was safe for use in cosmetic products and that the labelling on Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Powder was appropriate.
For J&J, this is the third trial in a row over claims their talcum powder causes cancer, with two previous lawsuits this year, also in St Louis, and which saw more than $120m being awarded in damages.
Both findings have been taken on appeal.
There are currently hundreds of claims against the company in the St Louis State Court, which has been described as “becoming a magnet” for product defect claims, as well as another estimated 300 cases in Los Angeles and another 200 in New Jersey.
But a judge in New Jersey has already dismissed two talc cases, finding the claims had inadequate scientific support.
According to Bloomberg News, Giannecchini’s lawyer, Allen Smith, slammed the lack of warnings on the product’s labels, saying J&J has been aware of studies over 30 years which show an increased risk of ovarian cancer from talc.
Most major health groups have declared talcum powder to be harmless, while some research has found no link or only a weak link between ovarian cancer and baby powder.