You probably heard that Johnson & Johnson lost a major court battle last year. The company was sued by a group of 22 women who claimed that they developed ovarian cancer as a result of exposure to talcum powder, sold in the form of J&J’s iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder. A jury ordered the company to pay a record $4.69 billion.
It was not the first time that J&J had lost a verdict in a lawsuit claiming that their talcum powder causes ovarian cancer. Over the past few years, the company has been on the losing side of several similar legal proceedings , resulting in awards totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Thousands of women are additionally poised to sue J&J based on a similar set of legal arguments; lawyers’ TV ads soliciting potential plaintiffs run night and day.
Everyone knows Johnson’s Baby Powder. Millions of us have been exposed to it at some point during our lifetimes. The product has been on the market for more than 100 years, having been first introduced in 1894 as a means of preventing and treating diaper rash.
Although Johnson’s Baby Powder accounts for only a small portion of J&J’s annual revenue, it is considered essential to its “carefully tended image as a caring company,” as Reuters put it. Johnson’s Baby Powder was a symbol of public trust, signifying that J&J was a paragon of comfort and safety.
This statement, regardless of its validity, misses the point. The lay public does not want to decide what level of asbestos might be safe. People simply want to feel secure that large corporations are not deceiving the public in an effort to bolster profits.