Johnson and Johnson’s opportunistic behavior has resulted in two huge recent court losses. What they knew and what they did with this knowledge is shocking.
North Little Rock, AR, May 31, 2016 — Johnson & Johnson lost its first court battle over baby powder in 2013, when a jury found the multinational pharmaceutical company had negligently marketed talcum powder. Surprisingly, the jury did not award any compensatory or punitive damages to the plaintiff Deanne Berg, an ovarian cancer survivor. The jury reportedly doubted whether Berg’s diagnosis stemmed from perineal use of talcum powder, but they still believed Johnson & Johnson was negligent in not providing a warning label on its iconic product. (http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/does-johnson-johnsons-baby-powder-cause-cancer)
So what changed between 2013 and 2016, when successive juries in St Louis hammered Johnson & Johnson to the tune of $127 million? Internal documents submitted at trial provided evidence not only that Johnson & Johnson knew about the reported risks of talc but also that it specifically marketed a carcinogenic hazard to minority communities.
By 1992 there were indications that a day of reckoning was coming for the talc industry. A number of studies had identified a possible linkage between talc and ovarian cancer, including a government analysis by the National Toxicology Program. In an internal memo with the headline “Major Opportunities [and] Major Obstacles” the company acknowledged the health concerns and suggested supplementing their infant program with media programs tailored to adults. The memo recommended that Johnson & Johnson “investigate ethnic opportunities to grow the franchise.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/img/baby_powder_major_opportunities_and_major_obstacles.pdf)
The memo did not begin a dramatic shift in focus for the pharmaceutical giant. Black and Hispanic women had long been the company’s target adult demographic—at the time the memo was drafted the percentage of black and Hispanic talc users was 52% and 37.6%, respectively-but it lended credence to the theory that Johnson & Johnson was aware of the risks of talc and knowingly transferred those risks upon an unsuspecting minority population.
“Some people might say, ‘What’s wrong with companies recognizing women of color as important consumers?’” said Robin Coleman, an Afro-American Studies professor at the University of Michigan. “We do want that. But we do not want companies to market potentially carcinogenic products.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/)
For years women had been told by Johnson & Johnson that “a sprinkle a day keeps the odor away,” a popular Johnson & Johnson commercial jingle that resonated with women like Jacqueline Fox. Fox, who died of ovarian cancer in 2015, was not drawn to the marketing campaign by coincidence. In a 2011 Advertising and Society Review article entitled “An Odor of Racism: Vaginal Deodorants in African-American Beauty Culture and Advertising,” Michelle Ferranti found that African-American women are almost four times as likely as Caucasian women to use genital deodorants. She argues that for freed slaves who wanted to become full-fledged members of society, genital deodorant became a critical aspect of life. Generations later, Ferranti believes that manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson are still preying and profiting off of fears that minority women will not be accepted if they do not prioritize personal hygiene more than their white contemporaries. (http://muse.jhu.edu/article/407304)
Over a decade after the memo suggested Johnson & Johnson investigate ethnic opportunities, the company was still trying to maximize its success among minorities. “African American consumers in particular will be a good target with more of an emotional feeling and talk about reunions among friends, etc., team up with Ebony Magazine,” suggested a Johnson & Johnson task force. The company thus plied its wares in locales typically associated with black culture, including churches, beauty salons, and barbershops. They also unsuccessfully recruited singers Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin to serve as celebrity endorsers. (http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/)
Julie Hennessy, a marketing professor at Northwestern, acknowledges that all companies cater to their most frequent clients, but she also says that for Johnson & Johnson in 2016, “. . . that looks horrible. From the outside it looks like J&J is less concerned, not more concerned, about its most loyal users because of their ethnic origin.” Two juries in St Louis have already agreed with Hennessy’s assessment. Once the dust has cleared in litigation, Johnson & Johnson might well regret ever investigating “ethnic opportunities” to market a dangerous carcinogen. (http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/)
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using talc powder, such as Baby Powder or Shower to Shower, you may have a case. For a free evaluation, call and talk to a nurse/attorney now toll free at 1-888- THE LAWYER or email your questions to Lisa@LisaGDouglas.com.
Law Offices of Lisa Douglas
North Little Rock, AR 72114
(501) 798-0004 or toll free at 1-888-THE LAWYER