72 Million Tears for Johnson & Johnson
The American multinational company Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $US 72 million to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to using their talcum powder.
In a civil suit by Jacqueline Fox of Birmingham, Alabama, and part of a broader claim in the city of St Louis Circuit Court involving nearly 60 people, a Missouri state jury awarded her family $US 14 million of actual damages and $US 86 million of punitive damages.
Attorney James Onder said he “absolutely” expects Johnson & Johnson – the world’s biggest maker of healthcare products – to appeal the verdict.
In the verdict announced late Monday night (22/02/2016) after a three-week trial, jurors said Johnson & Johnson, in an effort to boost sales, failed to warn users of the potential dangers despite concerns raised by the American Cancer Society in 1999.
Jere Beasley, a lawyer for Mrs Fox’s family, said Johnson & Johnson “knew as far back as the 1980s of the risk,” and yet resorted to “lying to the public, lying to the regulatory agencies”.
In the trial, Fox’s attorneys introduced into evidence a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies (the) risks” between ‘hygenic’ talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer; (they would be) denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary”.
Jacqueline Fox had previously noted that she used two of the company’s talc-based products — ‘Baby Powder’ and ‘Shower to Shower’ — as feminine hygiene products for more than 35 years before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago. ‘Shower to Shower’ was marketed with the slogan, “Just a sprinkle a day helps keep odour away.”
Her son Marvin Salter took over as plaintiff following his mother’s October 2015 death of ovarian cancer at 62, more than two years after her diagnosis. He said his late mother, who was a foster parent, used the iconic talcum powder as a bathroom staple for decades noting “It just became second nature, like brushing your teeth,” … “It’s a household name”.
The verdict potentially opens up the floodgates for pending claims against Johnson & Johnson where there is currently 1200 lawsuits in the US from customers who claim they were not warned about the risks.
What is Talc?
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, mined from the soil and composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products, such as talcum powder, to absorb moisture, prevent caking and improve the product’s feel.
Previous Studies Linking Talc to Ovarian Cancer
- In 1997 a published study found that women who applied talcum powder to their external genital area or used feminine deodorant sprays had a 50 to 90% higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- A study done in 2000 found that there was a 40% increase in one type of ovarian cancer (invasive serous) in talc users.
- A 33% increase in ovarian cancer risk was found in a meta-analysis among people using talc in 2003.
There are also theories that talc particles could travel to the ovaries, irritate them and cause inflammation. Low-level, long-term inflammation may increase the risk of some types of cancer. However this latest ruling is likely to prove controversial as many cancer experts believe this link to be unproven.
Johnson & Johnson and Controversy
As a multinational giant specialising in medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods, manufacturer Johnson & Johnson is no stranger to controversy.
The company has previously been targeted by health and consumer groups over possibly harmful ingredients in a number of their products including its iconic ‘No More Tears’ baby shampoo.
In May 2009, a coalition of groups called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pushing the multinational to take out controversial ingredients from its baby and adult personal care products. After three years of petitions, negative publicity and a boycott threat, the company agreed in 2012 to eliminate the ingredients 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products by 2015.
Other Harmful Chemicals in Johnson & Johnson Products
Johnson & Johnson are the chemical kings when it comes to their formulations. Their genius is in the marketing of a squeaky clean, natural range of brands such as Aveeno, Clean and Clear and Neutrogena.
Here is a snapshot of the cocktail for some of their baby (!) products.
- PEG-80 (polyethelyen glycol-80) – has a high risk of cancer causing actions.
- Cocamidopropyl betaine – a “soap-like” product that is known to cause skin irritation
- PEG-150 Distearate – a soap-like agent
- Phenoxyethanol – a chemical preservative known to cause eye irritation
- fragrance – chemicals can be hidden in this ingredient as the industry does not have to disclose what their “fragrance” consists of
- sodium benzoate – a preservative restricted in Japan
- tetrasodium EDTA
- ethylhexylglycerin -a preservative
- sodium hydroxide – can cause eye irritation
- potassium acrylates copolymer – a binding agent
- artificial colour yellow 6
- Mineral oil and baby oil – although refined to meet specifications for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and even food, mineral oil and baby oil are hydrocarbon compounds derived from petrochemicals.
- Pthalates and paragons which have oestrogen-like properties and are suspected to be linked to hormone related cancers.
Natural Alternative to Talcum Powder
A quick Google search reveals a considerable number of natural and safer alternatives to Talcum Powder.
Here is one of our favourites:
- 8 parts Bentonite Clay
- 8 parts Arrowroot Powder
- 1 part slippery elm powder (marshmallow root powder can be substituted)
- 1 part comfrey root powder
- Lavender essential oil
- Mix all ingredients (except essential oils) in a jar and shake.
- Add essential oils and shake once more.
- This jar has a 6 month shelf life.
This defining ruling provides evidence that multinational giants such as Johnson & Johnson do not have our wider interests at heart – instead profit is their bottom line.
Only after intense pressure was carcinogenic ingredients taken out of products that were targeted to babies, children and adults.
The Missouri State court system at least thinks that Johnson & Johnson are at fault for the death of one individual.
This is one person too many.