For many women, Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder is a product passed down through generations. Who would have known it could potentially cause cancer?
“I was raised up on it,” Jacqueline Fox, who in 2013 was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, said in a court deposition. “They was to help you stay fresh and clean … We ladies have to take care of ourselves.”
Since she was a teenager, the St. Louis, Missouri, resident had used the product made from talc daily by sprinkling some on her underwear.
Fox died from the cancer in October 2015 at the age of 61.
Prior to her death, Fox became aware of an Alabama law firm reporting possible connections between long-term use of J&J’s Baby Powder and ovarian cancer. But even her son, Marvin Salter, was “a bit skeptical at first” about the more than 100-year-old product being deemed unsafe.
“It has to be safe,” he said. “It’s put on babies. It’s been around forever. Why haven’t we heard about any ill effects?”
Four months after Fox died, a St. Louis jury found that talcum powder contributed to the development of the disease she battled for years. The jury concluded that Johnson & Johnson was liable for negligence, conspiracy and failure to warn women of the potential risk of using their baby powder in the genital area.
While her life was cut short before being able to see her case through to fruition, Fox won and was awarded a total of $72 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
“People were using something they thought was perfectly safe. And it isn’t,” Salter said after hearing the verdict in his late mother’s lawsuit, which included Imerys Talc America, the company that is the sole source of the powder for J&J but was not found liable in the case.
In fact, during the 1990s Johnson & Johnson considered increasing its marketing efforts to the company’s biggest consumer base for baby powder — black and Hispanic women — even after acknowledging concerns in the health community.
“It was really clear they were hiding something,” said Krista Smith, jury foreman in Fox’s case, who added how the most incriminating evidence was found within internal company documents.
“At least give people the choice,” Salter added about the company properly disclosing health warnings. “J&J didn’t give people a choice.”
Now over 1,000 women are suing J&J and Imerys due to the lack of disclosing information about the association with baby powder and ovarian cancer, which the companies have allegedly known about for years.
In 2015 alone, more than 75,000 people filed product liability claims against J&J, which doesn’t include the talc powder cases.
J&J’s Baby Powder currently includes a warning cautioning against inhalation, but makes no mention of the potential link between its use and ovarian cancer.
“Whether or not the science indicates that Baby Powder is a cause of ovarian cancer, Johnson & Johnson has a very significant breach of trust,” said Julie Hennessy, a marketing professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “In trying to protect this one business, they’ve put the whole J&J brand at risk.”
(Photo: Napat Polchoke/GettyImages)