Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) recently announced overall growth in the company’s second quarter earnings report, but with an increasing number of lawsuits, is J&J still a good buy? Three lawsuits alleging the talc in J&J’s baby powder products caused ovarian cancer have thrust the company’s negligence into the spotlight, and have some financial experts worried the company can’t survive a product liability payout.
The first link between the talc in baby powder and ovarian cancer came in 1971 when British researchers found talc particles deeply embedded in ovarian tumors. Throughout the next decade, more studies linking the talc in baby powder to ovarian cancer were published. These inspired an article from The New York Timesin 1982 that suggested the company knew about the link, but concealed it from consumers.
The talcum powder trials revealed that in the 1990s, J&J hired independent consultants to evaluate the link between talc and ovarian cancer. The consultant advised the company to stop defending the safety of talc and change its formula, but the company ignored the advice.
An internal J&J memo from 1992 showed the company knew about the link, but issued new marketing strategies to target African American and Hispanic women to overcome increasing concern.
After concealing the risks of talcum powder for decades, J&J finally got a wakeup call when the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer published a study that found women who use baby powder with talc around their genital areas had an increased risk of ovarian cancer between 30% and 60%.
Millions of women have used J&J’s baby powder for feminine hygiene. While it is difficult to estimate how many women have developed or will develop ovarian cancer from baby powder use, there could potentially be thousands of diagnoses directly caused by talc.
With two multimillion-dollar verdicts so far, talc could be J&J’s most costly product liability lawsuits. If the talcum powder lawsuits were the only lawsuits the company was facing, they might be able to weather storm, but J&J is plagued with lawsuits regarding many of its products, including pelvic mesh, power morcellators, hip implants, Xarelto, Invokana, and Risperdal, among others. With the future of the company at stake, J&J is fiercely battling each lawsuit, but will it be enough to save J&J?