Johnson & Johnson's Particularly Reprehensible Response To Finding Asbestos In Talc
The company failed to update its product warning label when the carcinogen was found in their baby powder
Friday, September 24, 2021 - A Missouri Appeals Court judge once labeled Johnson & Johnson's corporate behavior reprehensible, after plaintiff attorneys brought forth facts about the way the company handled their asbestos problem. The judge may have been referring to the way Johnson & Johnson used the image of a smiling, happy baby to target mothers. The innocent baby inferred that talcum powder was safe and pure long after asbestos was found in their talc supply. The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. That could not be more true for any product than the Johnson's Baby Powder product safety message. A consumer's recollection of visual images is thousands of times more powerful than their memory of the spoken words. According to academic studies, one professor wrote, "Long-term visual memory, unlike long-term verbal memory, appears to have virtually unlimited capacity, and deteriorates very slowly, if at all." Johnson & Johnson's targeting of young mothers was particularly insidious as all signs point to the company knowing their product probably caused cancer. More than 30,000 women have filed talcum powder cancer lawsuits.
The visual imagery of the smiling, happy baby, combined with the product's name "Baby Powder," created a branding that the product was the safest it could be. So safe that for more than half a century, no one so much as questioned the product's potential health dangers. Reports of internal company memos revealed at previous trials indicate that Johnson & Johnson knew as early as 1971 that their talc supply was contaminated with asbestos, a newly-discovered carcinogen. Rather than update the product's talcum powder cancer warning to include causing cancer, the executives at JNJ decided it would be better to cover up the dangers of asbestos contaminating their talc, and instead redirect their marketing and advertising towards African American and obese women living in the hot, humid southern regions of the United States. A landmark civil rights lawsuit has been filed by women of color alleging their ovarian cancer was caused by using Johnsońs Baby Powder, and that their race was deliberately targeted and described as being less well informed about the science of asbestos cancer. The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) filed suit in July alleging that the company knew their talc supply was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos and that Johnson & Johnson knowing this, deliberately targeted blacks.
Reuters investigative reporting wrote a piece titled " As Baby Powder Concerns Mounted, Johnson & Johnson Focused on Overweight Minority Women." The article highlights that in 2006, The World Health Organization (WHO) classified baby powder talc as "possibly carcinogenic." Reuters found that J&J targeted minorities with their radio, tv, and print advertising and also distributed samples at black churches in the south. Reuters wrote, "J&J, meanwhile, looked for ways to sell more Baby Powder to two key groups of longtime users: African-American and overweight women. The "right place" to focus, according to a 2006 internal J&J marketing presentation, was "underdeveloped geographical areas with hot weather and higher AA population," the "AA" referring to African-Americans."