Woke Lawsuit Alleges J&J Baby Powder Causes Cancer - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Woke Lawsuit Alleges J&J Baby Powder Causes Cancer

It’s one thing after another for Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) perfectly safe talcum-based baby powder, for which the company has been besieged with billions of dollars in lawsuits. After several massive judgments and settlements, it wisely offloaded liability onto a separate corporation with limited funding. That was challenged, but the courts upheld it. Fine. Plus, the company stopped selling the talcum variety in the U.S. and Canada in favor of an inferior cornstarch variety, because the rest of the world isn’t as lawsuit-crazy.

Fortune last month ranked Johnson & Johnson as a Top 50 All-Star on its World’s Most Admired Companies list for the 20th consecutive year. For 2022, the company ranked No. 1 on the Pharmaceutical Industry list for the ninth year in a row and in the top 20 on the overall Top 50 All-Stars list. It’s also donating financial and in-kind relief to victims of the Ukraine conflict.

J&J is facing an attempt to force a shareholder vote to halt its sales of the talc-based version anywhere, citing the cancer allegations.

But it still faces challenges in efforts to limit liability and even to sell where it wants, with a possible shareholder action to prevent those sales. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe it will be banned. (No, I don’t actually know if it’s even available in those places, but if not it won’t be.)

The plaintiffs’ argument in all the cases is that 1) They have ovarian cancer; 2) they claim to have had exposure to talc-based J&J Baby Powder near their ovaries; 3) sometimes the primary ingredient, talc, contains trace amounts of asbestos; and 4) asbestos is a known human carcinogen. Le voilà!

Not so fast! Yes, asbestos is sometimes found where talcum is mined. J&J’s claims that somehow it’s never made it into their baby powder even in trace amounts since its introduction in 1894 strains credibility. But presence of minute amounts is also irrelevant for our purposes. There are minute amounts of everything in everything, if you do enough highly sensitive testing.

But for our purposes:

  • We don’t even know that the women used J&J talcum baby powder ever, much less with any frequency. We’re just taking their word for it. At least with the often-bogus claim of “whiplash” we know the plaintiff was in an accident, even if no medical scan can show physical damage. These plaintiffs can’t even prove exposure.
  • Asbestos clearly can cause lung cancer. But the mechanism by which it does so simply doesn’t apply to other bodily tissues. Lung material is uniquely delicate and can also trap foreign substances. Consider that even something as terribly deadly as plutonium in the lungs is harmless in your hands or digestive tract. Yet even asbestos appears to require substantial exposure to develop cancer and the risk is greatly magnified by smoking. Numerous courts have rejected the “single fiber” or “any exposure” theory that was once popular. Almost all cases are in people who worked in clouds of it for years with no protection, such as shipyard workers and miners.
  • There are over 21,000 new ovarian cancer cases each year in the U.S; it’s the fifth-most-common type among women. So just by chance we can expect about 1.8 million women in today’s U.S. population eventually to develop ovarian cancer, regardless of talc exposure. And ovarian cancer rates are highest in women aged 55 to 64 years. That’s the age range of virtually all the J&J plaintiffs. No outside agent is needed to explain their cancers. Tragically, it just happens.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), “No increased risk of [even] lung cancer has been reported with the use of cosmetic talcum powder.” The ACS does say some studies of talc miners and millers “have suggested an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases,” while others haven’t. But even those studies “have been complicated by the fact that talc in its natural form can contain varying amounts of asbestos and other minerals, unlike the purified talc in consumer products.”

The HHS National Toxicology Program doesn’t list talc as a cause of human cancer. The Cancer Council of Western Australia goes so far as to call any link between talc and cancer, and specifically talc and ovarian cancer, “a myth.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) does classify the perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” which plaintiffs’ lawyers routinely note in their complaints. But to understand IARC’s methodology, as I described in a previous article for The American Spectator, that means nothing more than, “Maybe it’s harmful and maybe it isn’t; we don’t have enough evidence.” That’s why IARC also says asbestos just might be implicated in cancers other than the lung. The IARC conclusion is also referenced on the ACS page, despite ACS’s independent conclusion. That may be a political decision, insofar as originally there was no reference to IARC.

Shockingly, J&J decided it didn’t want to go the way of Eastern Airlines or Studebaker. So last October it created LTL Management to absorb the litigation. The goal was to transfer the cases to bankruptcy court, where plaintiffs would vie for compensation from a limited pool of money, Reuters reported. Reuters has a vendetta against J&J, but that sounds like a fair description. Prior to the LTL bankruptcy filing, J&J faced about $3.5 billion in talc verdict and settlement costs, but J&J funded the subsidiary with only $2 billion to put into a trust to compensate all 38,000 current plaintiffs, plus future plaintiffs.

Trial lawyers, were — ahem — ticked. “Despicable as it is brazen,” and “an unconscionable abuse of the legal system,” declared the chief executive of a trial lawyers’ group. But late last month a federal court upheld the move, declaring that the “decision today will be met with much angst and concern,” but “remains steadfast in its belief that justice will best be served by expeditiously providing critical compensation through a court-supervised, fair, and less costly settlement trust arrangement.” That decision will surely be appealed all the way to the top.

Yet now J&J is facing an attempt to force a shareholder vote to halt its sales of the talc-based version anywhere, citing the cancer allegations. Proposing the vote is an entity called Tulipshare, which the left-leaning British newspaper the Guardian described as “a London-based investment platform that allows customers to pool shares in order to meet the threshold to submit resolutions for shareholder votes.”

Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. It focuses on “woke” causes, such as trying to stop JP Morgan Chase from investing in fossil fuels. Apparently it’s especially pissed by a Reuters report that J&J targeted overweight minority women. Actually, that’s a natural customer group given that while the entire U.S. has an overweight and obesity problem it’s most severe among blacks and non-Hispanic whites. And, well, so-called “plus-sized” people have a lot more problems with body parts rubbing and chafing than their non-plussed counterparts.

The proposal has been submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) to consider if it is eligible ahead of J&J’s annual meeting, expected in April. J&J’s lawyers have written to the SEC asking that it exclude the shareholder resolution as ineligible because it would affect pending lawsuits in state and federal courts in the U.S. and in other countries, including “thousands of personal injury claims alleging that talc causes cancer.”

Oh, and the company added that there’s no evidence its product has ever caused cancer. But who cares about that?

Michael Fumento (www.fumento.com) is an attorney, author, and science journalist for over 35 years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Sunday Times, the Atlantic, and many other fora. He has no financial interest of any kind in Johnson & Johnson or any talc retailer, wholesaler, etc.

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