Johnson & Johnson is facing legal action in the UK for the first time over claims its talcum powder causes cancer.
The move is being led by a legal firm that successfully sued the company for £4.1billion ($4.7billion) in the US on behalf of 22 women who developed ovarian cancer.
The health concerns are driven by worries over exposure to asbestos, which is claimed to be a component part of the powder that is often used by adults, both for themselves and newborn babies.
An estimated 41,000 women in the UK have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and a further 2,700 with mesothelioma — a cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
Based on these figures, the lawyers believe there may be thousands of victims who can trace their asbestos exposure back to talc from a variety of manufacturers, including Johnson’s Baby Powder.
Johnson & Johnson is facing legal action in the UK for the first time over claims its talcum powder (pictured) causes cancer
The launch of the US-style group action is being led by Mark Lanier (pictured), a founding partner of Lanier, Longstaff, Hedar & Roberts LLP. He recently launched a UK law firm with a group of British barristers
Why is the claim being brought against Johnson & Johnson?
Why could talcum powder be dangerous?
Talcum powder is made of finely ground talc, a mineral which forms underground as a clay-like rock.
Talc is often mined from the same place as asbestos, a mineral known to cause lung disease that has long been linked to cancer.
While talc is used for the skin, thanks to its softness and moisture-absorbing properties, asbestos was used for insulation.
Studies dating as far back as the 1960s suggest that talc products, which are safe on their own, may be contaminated with asbestos.
What do claimants say Johnson & Johnson has done wrong?
Johnson & Johnson have been marketing its talcum powder as suitable for the body and groin area for decades.
Over time, there have been several investigations that h highlighted a risk of asbestos in talc-based products and the potential to cause ovarian cancer and mesothelioma — a type of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
Johnson & Johnson have been accused of knowing about those risks and direct links but still selling and marketing the product without adequate warnings to consumers and in some cases, hiding the fact that its talc was contaminated with asbestos — according to those bringing the claim against the company in the UK.
They say that as a result, thousands of people in the UK may have suffered and been diagnosed with ovarian cancer or mesothelioma unnecessarily, or their disease may have been preventable.
Cancer Research UK has questioned the links to ovarian cancer and states there is not enough good evidence to draw a link to talcum powder.
It said: ‘Some studies have suggested a possible increase in risk of ovarian cancer in women who use talc on their genitals, but the evidence isn’t clear.
‘Even if there was an increased risk from talcum powder, it would likely be smaller than known causes of ovarian cancer, like age, family history and smoking.’
The launch of the US-style group action is being led by Mark Lanier, a founding partner of Lanier, Longstaff, Hedar & Roberts LLP. He recently launched a UK law firm with a group of British barristers.
It is argued that the primary ingredient, mineral talc, has been found to contain asbestos.
As a result, a number of manufacturers are removing this ingredient from their products.
Johnson & Johnson withdrew its mineral talc-based products in the US and Canada in 2020 and it will cease sales in the UK and globally next year, switching to a new formula.
Mr Lanier said: ‘For over 40 years major manufacturers of talc products have covered up evidence of asbestos in their products. With pressure mounting, these companies are finally ceasing production, but this is long overdue.
‘Companies have made many millions from sales of talc, and we believe there are many more victims, including in the UK, who deserve justice for having their lives cut short by these terrible and incurable cancers, which could so easily have been avoided.’
Tom Longstaff, a barrister supporting the case, said: ‘We will show that the use of talcum powder materially increased a person’s risk of developing cancer, and we already have access to a number of important sources of information that demonstrate how talcum powder manufactured by Johnson & Johnson and other companies contained asbestos and that the company had known of that fact for decades.
‘This litigation will demonstrate that manufacturers essentially prioritised profit over the health of the users of its products, and we seek justice for the injured victims in the UK.’
The lawyers have not yet identified any UK women who are willing to come forward to make a claim.
Given the nature of the claim, it is hard to predict the exact sum of damages that claimants may receive.
Compensation will depend on various factors, such as any losses they or their loved ones have suffered, and the severity of the diagnosis.
Despite the successful lawsuits in the US, Johnson & Johnson insists that its baby powder and talcum products are safe. It says they do not contain asbestos.
It said: ‘Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged.
‘We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer.’
Despite these reassurances, it confirmed it is adopting a new formula, saying its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder will be discontinued around the world next year.
It explained the decision, saying: ‘We continuously evaluate and optimise our portfolio to best position the business for long-term growth.
‘This transition will help simplify our product offerings, deliver sustainable innovation, and meet the needs of our consumers, customers and evolving global trends.
‘Cornstarch-based Johnson’s Baby Powder is already sold in countries around the world.
‘Johnson’s is a flagship global brand of Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health and we remain fully committed to ensuring Johnson’s products are loved by parents and families for years to come.’
Lanier, Longstaff, Hedar & Roberts LLP will act for claimants on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis. Further information is available at: mytalcclaim.co.uk.