Black Women for Wellness News Release 

For Release: August 27, 2020

Toxic Products Marketed to Black Women:
J&J refuses to remove talc Baby Powder from global market even as it ends U.S. sales due to lawsuits

(Los Angeles) In an email sent by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in response to Black Women for Wellness and global allies seeking to protect the health of consumers around the world, the company continued to deny the hazards of its talcum-based Baby Powder even though it plans to stop selling the product in North America where thousands of women are suing over cancer concerns.  

In a second letter sent today, over 200 groups from 50 countries called on Johnson & Johnson to walk its talk on racial equity and valuing Black lives by removing the talc Baby Powder that has been aggressively marketed to women of color.  

See correspondence:

“We are deeply disappointed by your patronizing and dismissive response to our request that your company take its responsibility seriously to protect women around the world from unsafe chemical exposures by removing toxic products aggressively marketed to Black women,” Janette Robinson Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness, wrote to Alex Gorsky, the company’s CEO. 

“Johnson & Johnson needs to prove its solidarity with Black lives by pulling talc-based products that may be contaminated with asbestos off store shelves globally,” said Robinson Flint. 

Johnson & Johnson announced in May it would permanently stop selling talc-based Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada due to dropping demand. Thousands of women are suing the company over claims that exposure to Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder caused their ovarian cancers. Nevertheless, the company said it will continue selling its contentious talcum powder-based product in international markets. 

In June, Gorsky alleged his company’s support for racial justice and equity in a statement pledging to stand in solidarity with Black lives.  

“Black Women for Wellness has known too many Black women suffering from reproductive and breast cancers; we are direct witnesses to the suffering, expense and harm caused to families by cancer. Marketing the same product with the same toxic chemical in international markets with majority Black and Brown women contradicts what they have said and calls into question the sincerity of their statements,” Robinson Flint said in a July press statement.

In June, a Missouri appeals court ordered J&J and a subsidiary company to pay $2.1 billion dollars in damages to women who claimed their ovarian cancers were caused by the company’s talc-based products. The court said the case had shown “clear and convincing evidence the defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference.” Tests conducted by Johnson & Johnson have detected asbestos in some talc supplies and tests conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year found a sample of Johnson’s Baby Powder that contained chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos, leading to a voluntary recall by the company. 

Ami Zota, ScD, MS, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University Milken School of Public Health, explained, “Asbestos is a known human carcinogen, and no amount of this toxic substance is acceptable in our everyday cosmetic products like talc-based Baby Powder. Since it is nearly impossible to ensure that all talc-based powder products are free of asbestos, these products must be removed from store shelves across the globe. Given the potential links between talc-based powders and ovarian cancer, halting sales of talc-based powders will benefit women’s health -- especially for women of color, who are disproportionately dying from ovarian cancer.”

Internal company documents suggest that as public concerns over Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and its possible links to cancer grew, the company doubled down on aggressively marketing its talc-based Baby Powder to women of color, distributing free samples in Black churches and advertising on Spanish-language radio. An internal J&J memo from 1992 acknowledged “negative publicity from the health community on talc (inhalation, dust, negative doctor endorsement, cancer linkage) continues” and simultaneously recommended increased marketing to Black and Hispanic women.

The health, environmental, consumer and academic groups are asking Johnson & Johnson to fully remove talc-based Baby Powder from the entire global market; safely dispose of existing inventory, rather than shifting marketing and sales to low-income or marginalized communities, domestically or abroad; and cease production of the product globally.

“Black Women for Wellness, our partners and allies who now represent over 200 organizations from across the globe ask that you honor your stated morals and ethics and valuing the lives of women, Black women, women of color,” the letter said.