Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 Bottles for Fear of Asbestos, Closes down 6%
Johnson & Johnson, a huge company ($82 billion in sales last year) that touches millions of lives through brands such as Tylenol, Band-Aid and Rogaine, recalled 33,000 bottles of the product on Friday after the Food and Drug Administration discovered evidence of asbestos, a known carcinogen, in one of the bottles.
This recall means a lot more than the 33,000 bottles to Johnson & Johnson. It is the first hint at the company acknowleding some responsibility to what has been a strong defense against many allegations that its talc-based products caused cancer. Johnson & Johnson faces over 15,000 cases from people who say baby powder and other talc-based products caused them to develop cancer. Whats even more concerning is this is only one of many differnt types of litigationsthat that the company is facing regarding its products.
The company has settled some claims, with many more in litigation, over its role in the nationwide opioid crisis. On Thursday, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $117 million in a settlement over the deceptive marketing of transvaginal pelvic mesh implants, and a jury this month ordered it to pay $8 billion to a Maryland man who accused the company of playing down the risks associated with the antipsychotic drug Risperdal. In total, the company faces more than 100,000 lawsuits over its products.
“I can’t imagine an attorney for Johnson & Johnson standing up in front of a jury now and saying with a straight face that the product is safe,” said David Noll, a law professor at Rutgers University. He added that “if people come to associate the company’s signature product with deadly diseases, there will be huge spillover effects for its ability to market other products.”
Johnson & Johnson repeated its normal and heavily repeated defense against cancer claims, saying that “thousands of tests over the past 40 years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos.” The company appeared to question the testing process, saying in a statement that it is working with the F.D.A. to “determine the integrity of the tested sample and the validity of the test results.”
Dr. Susan Nicholson, Johnson & Johnson’s vice president of women’s health, said during a short conference call with investors on Friday that the F.D.A.’s report showed “an extremely unusual finding” that was “inconsistent with our testing to date.”
In response, an agency spokeswoman, Gloria Sánchez-Contreras, said, “The F.D.A. stands by the quality of its testing and results.”
Analysts estimate the baby powder lawsuits could cost Johnson & Johnson $5 billion to $10 billion. The recall could lead to the company’s having to pay more in damages or to settle cases, said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor who studies corporate governance.
Johnson & Johnson’s name is “so synonymous with their line of baby products,” said Alla Valente, an analyst with Forrester. But recently, she said, the company has started a “damage control campaign” that casts it as bigger than its baby powder, focusing on its slate of other products.
“It’s about trust: If a mother could trust a Johnson & Johnson product for their children, then that product must be safe,” Ms. Valente said. “But now, the dam is finally breaking, where consumers are saying that enough is enough.”
Several earlier F.D.A. tests, including one in the past year and another about a decade ago, did not detect any asbestos in samples of baby powder.
It is important to know that the F.D.A. does not require safety testing for personal-care products and cosmetics before they are marketed, and tests products only occasionally, usually after complaints by consumers or advocacy groups.
The agency considered , but never followed through with a plan to monitor talcum products for asbestos in the 1970s, when concern about asbestos in household products captured the public’s attention. The F.D.A. commissioned tests of Johnson & Johnson powders back then, and the company successfully challenged their validity.
This year, after consumer tests found asbestos in makeup kits for children sold at Claire’s, the F.D.A. followed up with its own tests. It detected the carcinogen in half of 20 products, including Claire’s eye shadow and compact powder, JoJo Siwa makeup sold at Claire’s, and bronzers, blush and other makeup made by Beauty Plus Global City Color Cosmetics and sold in retail outlets. The agency plans to test 30 more products containing talcum powder, including those popular on social media and others marketed to children, Ms. Sánchez-Contreras said. The products are a tiny percentage of the thousands of personal-care products available for sale.