Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday said it will stop selling its talcum baby powder in the United States and Canada owing to a drop in demand, according to Reuters. The company faces thousands of lawsuits claiming asbestos contamination in its baby powder.

“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due to changes in consumer habits, fuelled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” the company said in a statement.

Johnson & Johnson said that it had stopped shipping the talcum baby power after the coronavirus-induced lockdown was imposed as shopping and manufacturing was limited. The company said it would now wind down its North American sales.

There are more than 19,000 lawsuits against the company. Several of these alleged that the baby powder caused Mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs and other organs commonly caused by asbestos. Asbestos is known to cause cancer that only emerges decades after being exposed to it.

In 2018, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.7 billion (Rs 32,169 crore) in damages to 22 women who claimed they had developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc products. The company is in the midst of an appeal against the verdict.

Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly said that its talcum products are safe and do not cancer. It said it “remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder,” citing “decades of scientific studies”.

The company has faced major investigations into the safety of its baby powder following an investigative report that said the company was aware of asbestos lurking in its talcum.

The company has also faced a federal criminal investigation into how forthright it has been about its talc products’ safety. This includes an investigation by 41 states into its baby powder sales, which it disclosed in April, and another investigation into health risks of asbestos in talc-containing consumer products.

Along with other drugmakers, Johnson & Johnson has also been named as a defendant in over 2,900 lawsuits that allege the healthcare company promoted addictive opioids.

“We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom,” Johnson & Johnson said. “All verdicts against the company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned.”

The company added that it will continue to sell its talcum-based baby powder in the United Kingdom and other countries, BBC reported. It will sell both types of Johnson’s baby powder – talc-based and cornstarch-based – in other markets around the world where there is “significantly higher” consumer demand for the product.

In May 2019, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in India had directed Johnson & Johnson to withdraw a batch of its baby shampoo that allegedly contained harmful chemicals. The direction came after a Rajasthan government laboratory had found formaldehyde in two batches of Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo. Formaldehyde is known to be a carcinogen.

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