Johnson & Johnson Defends Itself Against Talc Claims

Thom Weidlich 12.20.18


Johnson & Johnson is responding to investigative articles in Reuters and The New York Times about a carcinogen allegedly in the company’s baby powder. Given that J&J has lost several jury verdicts on the issue — one for a whopping $4.69 billion — the company has pulled out the stops to defend itself.

On Friday, first Reuters and then The New York Times published lengthy articles online claiming the company knew the talc in its baby powder contained asbestos (the Times story was in print the next day). The Reuters article sent J&J’s stock down 10 percent.

The company faces thousands of lawsuits over the claims. Last year, it was ordered it to pay $417 million to a woman who said she developed ovarian cancer from using the product. In July, a jury in Missouri ordered it to pay the nearly $5 billion to 22 women and their families who claimed the powder caused ovarian cancer.

In its statement responding to Reuters, J&J called the story “one-sided, false, and inflammatory.” It said its powder does not contain asbestos, and studies of 100,000 people showed the product doesn’t cause disease. It said that the article ignored tests by others showing this to be true and that the company has cooperated with regulators on the issue.

Then on Saturday it released a similar statement about the New York Times article. “The decades-long record overwhelmingly shows that our talc is safe, and J&J has engaged with great transparency in open discussions on the safety of its talc with scientists and regulators, and we will continue to defend our position,” it said.

Information Website

Both statements referred people to an information website,, that the company said contains 5,000 documents from the litigation.

All the action got noticed. “J&J Hits Back Over Asbestos in Talc Claims,” headlined the Pharmaphorum website. Reuters itself reported on J&J’s crisis-communications effort, also noting that on Monday CEO Alex Gorsky appeared on CNBC’s “Mad Money” to defend his company.

This week it is running full-page issue ads in newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The headline of one: “Science. Not Sensationalism.”

Of all the verdicts against Johnson & Johnson that we have already appealed, not one has been upheld.

— Johnson & Johnson

That ad noted that the company had been “in the news lately about the talc in our Baby Powder.” It was written in straightforward, non-technical English. “Johnson’s only uses pure, pharmaceutical-grade talc,” the company wrote. “We test every lot to ensure it.”

The informational website (for which J&J is also buying Google ads) has a clean and simple design. It has a longer critique of the Reuters piece. About the litigation, J&J writes, in a nice, direct way: “You’ve probably read news stories about juries awarding large verdicts in cases alleging that Johnson’s Baby Powder can cause ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. But you may not have read or heard this: of all the verdicts against Johnson & Johnson that we have already appealed, not one has been upheld.”

Alas, yesterday the judge in the Missouri case refused to nix the massive award. Still, all in all, J&J’s quick and multifaceted response has been impressive.

Photo Credit: Nonowon/Shutterstock

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