Johnson & Johnson will stop selling talcum baby powder in the US and Canada after thousands of lawsuits filed in recent years claimed the product causes cancer.
The company announced on Tuesday that over the past three years, sales of the item had dropped 60 percent.
The company said in a statement the product's sales have been "declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising."
Kathleen Widmer, chairman of North America for Johnson & Johnson’s consumer health division, told the Financial Times "that advertising from lawyers seeking new clients to sue the company had confused customers and caused sales to fall."
Johnson & Johnson had insisted that its talc-based products are safe, but it had lost multiple court cases regarding the claims.
Widmer told the news outlet the product will still be sold outside of the US and Canada, which account for roughly 20 percent of the market for the product.
“Johnson’s baby powder will continue to be sold in other markets where there’s significantly higher demand, and where consumers are not confused by misleading litigation advertising,” Widmer said.
More than 19,000 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson claiming the powder can cause cancer, and in 2019, the company was subpoenaed by US officials investigating the allegations.
"Johnson & Johnson remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder. Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product," the statement on Tuesday read.
"We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom. All verdicts against the Company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned."
In 2018, the company was ordered to pay $4.7billion in damages to 22 women who told a jury in Mississippi that talcum powder led them to develop ovarian cancer.
Their lawyers alleged the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos, while Johnson & Johnson said at the time it was "deeply disappointed" and will appeal the verdict.
The company added: "Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed."
Johnson & Johnson's share price took a hit after the record damages verdict, and it dropped from 127.45 to 124.65 in mid-July.
Then in mid-December, the shares took an even bigger hit after Reuters published a report that the company knew for a decade about small amounts of asbestos in some baby powder.
What is talcum powder made of?
Talcum powder is made from talc, which is a clay mineral composed of silicon, magnesium, and oxygen.
People have taken advantage of its soft and absorbent properties since the time of the ancient Egyptians.
In talc’s most natural form, it contains asbestos, which is known to cause cancer in the lungs when inhaled, but all talcum products in the US have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.
Now talc is used for a variety of reasons: as a baby powder, in chewing gum and candy, and even in olive oil.
What is baby powder used for?
Baby powder is used to help absorb moisture on the skin and to prevent odors when it's used as deodorant, and can be used to prevent friction and to protect against rashes.
It can also be used as a cleaning agent and as shampoo.
Does talcum powder cause cancer?
Some studies have found that women who regularly use talc on their genital area face up to a 40 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Other research, however, has shown either no link or a weak link between cancer the product and most major health groups have declared talc harmless.
But the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use of talc as “possibly carcinogenic."
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