Baby powder was linked to cancer and death in a woman in Missouri, claimed her family and Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $72 million.
In a verdict, which is the first by a U.S. jury to award damages over the claims, a jury in St Louis, Missouri, said the company had failed to warn users of the potential dangers of its product, despite concerns raised by the American Cancer Society in 1999.
Jacqueline Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, claimed she used baby powder and shower to shower for feminine hygiene for more than 35 years before being diagnosed three years ago with ovarian cancer. She died in October at age 62.
Talc is a naturally-occurring mineral, widely used in personal care products, such as talcum powder, to absorb moisture, prevent caking, and improve the product’s feel, according to the Guardian.
Prior to the 1970s, talcum powder was often contaminated with asbestos fibres, the known cancer-causing ingredient. But since then, all home products containing talcum powder are legally obliged to be asbestos-free. Most manufacturers of talcum powder in the U.S. have switched to corn starch since the 90s. In Britain, most still use talcum.
Krista Smith, the jury foreman, felt that Johnson & Johnson had been deceitful. She said as follows.
“It was really clear they were hiding something. All they had to do was put a warning label on.”
Johnson & Johnson is currently facing 1,200 lawsuits in the U.S. from customers who claim they were not warned about the risks. The company was ordered pay the family of Jackie Fox $10 million in compensation and $62 million as a punitive award. Deliberations lasted four hours, following a three-week trial, reported the New York Post.
Carol Goodrich, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, issued a statement saying the following.
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathise with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
Allen Smith, an attorney for the family, told the jury that the company would “not change their behaviour until good people like you act.”
He added that the verdict had been warranted “given the horrible conduct of Johnson & Johnson.”
The ruling has a likelihood to be proven controversial, given the fact that most cancer experts believe the link is unproven. There is very little evidence to prove the link between baby powder and cancer. Some scientists believe that talc particles could travel to the ovaries and irritate them, causing inflammation. Low-level, long-term inflammation may increase the risk of some types of cancer. But studies on whether anti-inflammatory drugs could prevent cancer have shown they are ineffective.
Cancer Research U.K. states the following on its website.
“If something truly causes cancer, you would expect people who are exposed to more of that thing to have a higher risk. For example, the more you smoke, the higher your risk of lung cancer. But the majority of the studies have not found a similar relationship for talc use and ovarian cancer.”
The ovarian cancer charity, Ovacome, also said that “the evidence for a link is weak, but even if talc does increase the risk of ovarian cancer studies suggest it would be by around a third.
“This is a modest increase in risk and ovarian cancer is a relatively rare disease. Increasing a small risk by a third still gives a small risk.”
Law experts in Britain warned that if the company was prosecuted in Britain, a judge, not a jury, would need to be convinced that there was enough scientific evidence to support the claim. Roderick Bagshaw, Associate Professor of Law said the following.
“Whether we will see claims against baby powder producers in England is likely to depend to a great extent on the nature of the scientific evidence that supports the proposition that such powder causes cancer. In England such cases would involve having to convince a judge, rather than having to convince a jury, and the judge would have to be convinced not just that powder can cause cancer but also that a particular claimant’s cancer was caused (or contributed to) by the powder. A problem claimants frequently face is that if their cancer could have been caused by many different things then it is hard to show that one of them made a difference.”
Johnson & Johnson baby powder has been used widely all over the world. The verdict is a wake up call for the consumers to be aware of the health risks of the products they use.
[Photo by Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images]