Johnson & Johnson relaunches Baby Care line amidst talc cancer risk controversy

Following declining sales, Johnson & Johnson has relaunched its Baby Care line, including its controversial talc products, despite the fact that a number of scientific studies have linked the mineral to a risk of developing cancer.


"We’re not only a leading baby skin care brand, we’re also a leader in safety research" says J&J in an Instagram post published around the time of its talc relaunch - Instagram @johnsonsbaby

The newly relaunched Baby Care line will include the company's traditional talc and cornstarch baby powder and will also introduce a new cotton-based powder, as well as updated formulas for other products, including a "less slippery" baby wash.

The relaunch comes after Johnson & Johnson announced that sales in its Baby Care division – which also includes lines such as Aveeno – have decreased 20% since 2011, falling to $1.9 billion. Q1 sales for 2018 fell 14% in the US.

"Perhaps because of our success, we became a bit complacent and did not want to mess with success, for lack of a better expression," said Jorge Mesquita, J&J global chairman and EVP for the company's global consumer unit, to CNBC. "We failed to evolve our model" to meet the needs of "millennial moms".

A large part of evolving to meet these needs has involved Johnson & Johnson removing sulfates, parabens and other additives unpopular with health-conscious millennials from its products in an effort to regain market share in the baby and personal care space.

However, despite the findings of various studies identifying talcum as a carcinogen, the company is continuing to put its talc baby powder on the market.

Research conducted over the past forty years has found that when talc is applied to the female genital area, it can travel to the ovaries and cause ovarian cancer. Further studies have also shown that when inhaled, talcum powder can cause mesothelioma and other lung diseases.

"There is overwhelming evidence that Johnson & Johnson has known about the links between talcum powder and cancer for decades," says Ted Meadows, attorney at Beasley Allen law firm in a statement. "They knew that the mining process that extracts talc can taint it with asbestos, heavy metals and other chemicals that can cause cancer," he explained.

Allen has represented a number of victims in trials where juries have found that genital use of Johnson's Baby Powder was directly linked to the development of ovarian cancer.

Nonetheless, Mesquita is keen to emphasise that consumers can safely use Johnson & Johnson products, telling CNBC, "We are absolutely certain that science shows that our talcum product is safe, and we will defend our brand and defend our product."

There have, however, been over 9,000 lawsuits filed in the US seeking damages for victims claiming to have developed cancer as a result of using talcum powder. Only last month a New Jersey jury returned a $117 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier in the case of a 46-year-old banker whose cancer diagnosis was found to be related to talc use.

As the controversy has gained more media attention over the past year and a half, manufacturers of similar products have begun putting warnings on their baby care lines, detailing the risks of using talc on the female genital area.

According to Trisha Bonner, J&J Consumer's associate director of R&D, who also spoke to CNBC, the changes in the  company's relaunched Baby Care line have been implemented in an attempt to adapt to changing consumer preferences and not because of safety risks.

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