Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has long been the undisputed leader in baby product sales and has always tried to portray itself as a gentle, safe, and caring company. But the recent reports from Reuters in Dec 2018 about its baby talc powder suggested otherwise. The report indicates that small amounts of asbestos have been lurking in some of the company’s talc — the substance that makes baby powder powdery — going back to the 1970s. The company allegedly didn’t openly communicate results, and at times purposely hid them, to both consumers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
J&J is still being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission after questions surfaced about the safety of the company’s baby powder. The investigation started after a Reuters report that suggested based on the internal documents of J&J that the company knew for several decades that its baby powder contained small amounts of asbestos (which is a known human carcinogen), though they kept claiming publicly “Zero tolerance for Asbestos“. The reason there could be asbestos in baby powder is that one of the primary ingredients is talc: a natural mineral that’s often found and mined near asbestos. “To prevent contamination of talc with asbestos, it is essential to select talc mining sites carefully and take steps to purify the ore sufficiently,” the FDA says on its website.
Now, J&J has once again come under the scanner of Indian health authorities after Rajasthan’ s Drug Controller found that its “No More Tears” baby shampoo samples were found to contain harmful ingredient Formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), based on the samples tested between 16 and 28 February, 2019, though J&J has disputed these test findings. According to reports, the Drug Control Organization asked State Drug Controllers across India to withdraw available stocks of J&J’s baby shampoo from the market.
It’s important to mention here that in 2014, New York Times reported, J&J’s baby shampoo no longer contained two potentially harmful chemicals, formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane. J&J vowed to remove both chemicals from its baby products by the end of 2013, and in 2014, it said that it had met its goal. But the latest test reports put a big question mark over J&J’s claims made over 5 years ago.
Though J&J has denied the government test results of presence of Formaldehyde in their baby shampoo, and claimed that all its products are safe, but the chain of recent events surrounding their allegedly inferior quality products do not inspire a lot of confidence.
J&J is facing over 13,000 talc related lawsuits in USA , most of which relate to ovarian cancer among women and mesothelioma who have used J&J baby shampoo in the past. The number of lawsuits against J&J are expected to continue increasing in 2019 and beyond. Some of the ovarian cancer verdicts have been overturned on appeal on technical legal grounds, while the company’s other appeals are still pending.
In July 2018, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.69 billion to 22 women and their families who had claimed that asbestos in the company’s talcum powder products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The company tried to get the award reversed, but a judge denied that request and upheld the jury’s decision and award.
In Jan 2019, J&J reported paid over $1.5 million to a women to settle a case outside court, who claimed to have contracted mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, from using J&J products. Even as recently as March 2019, Johnson & Johnson took the unusual step of settling out of court three women’s claims that its talc-based products caused their asbestos-linked cancers rather than let juries decide the case, potentially opening a new front in the growing litigation against the world’s largest maker of health-care products. Still, J&J continues to deny that its products contain any asbestos.
Imerys Talc America (the U.S. unit of French group Imerys SA), a key supplier of talc used in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday in the wake of multi billion-dollar lawsuits alleging its products caused ovarian cancer and asbestos-related mesothelioma. Imerys officials said that it filed for bankruptcy because it lacks the financial clout to defend against nearly 15,000 lawsuits over its talc mineral product.
Even Johnson & Johnson’s hip faulty and defective hip implants left 4,000 people in the lurch and the government is still trying to get the company to pay compensation to all those adversely affected. Two Expert Committees were formed under the Chairmanship of Dr. Arun Kumar Agarwal and Dr. RK Arya. While the Agarwal Committee examined the issues relating to faulty ASR hip implants, the Arya Committee determined the quantum of compensation. The formula is based on the percentage of disability, age factor, and risk factor, and was accepted by the Government of India, as per a press released dated November 29, 2018.
Applying the formula, the patients suffering due to faulty hip implants would get upto ₹1.2 crore each and an additional ₹10 lakh for “non-pecuniary” losses. J&J has contested the Centre’s jurisdiction in deciding the compensation, but today on April 8, 2019, it informed the Delhi High Court of its willingness to pay Rs.25 lacs each as compensation to patients affected by its faulty Articular Surface Replacement (ASR) hip implants.
Analysing the above instances of inferior quality products of one multinational giant, it is very clear that:
- Such billion dollar companies promote their products through multiple media ads (newspapers, television, social media, etc.) and do not disclose or purposely hide the harmful ingredients of their products and cheat customers in their unending selfish bid to capture higher market share and grow their profits.
- The gullible and non-suspecting customers get easily influenced and swayed by the attractive marketing campaigns and catchy taglines and visual advertisements run by such companies across all platforms, as they are unaware of the serious health repercussions and long term side-effects of such products.
- Though the company continues to deny any quality claims in their products, the recent court judgements and even the outside court settlements clearly implicate the company in such cases, and expose the harsh reality of their products side-effects.
- Many (but not all) of these international branded products for cosmetic and hygiene use artificial ingredients and harmful chemicals, and incidence of certain types of cancers is very high in Western countries due to their indiscriminate use despite strict FDA guidelines being in place and courts taking strong action in case of any non-disclosure by companies.
- Now, these companies are fast expanding their presence in India and luring unsuspecting customers with their attractive marketing and star brand endorsements, however, the Indian government and customers need to be extra vigilant and careful especially as the safety norms and court processes in our country are comparatively very lax and inefficient. The natural products traditionally used for centuries in our country are much more safe and effective, and without any of the side-effects of these western artificial products (such as cancers, tumors, etc.).
- Article in NYtimes.com dated Jul 12, 2018 (Click here)
- Article in Chemicalwatch.com dated Jan 9, 2019 (Click here)
- Article in Reuters dated Feb 13, 2019 (Click here)
- Article in Businessinsider.in dated Feb 22, 2019 (Click here)
- Article in Livemint.com dated Mar 28, 2019 (Click here)
- Article in Business-Standard.com dated April 1, 2019 (Click here)
- Article in BarandBench.com dated April 8, 2019 (Click here)