Johnson & Johnson talc asbestos papers

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As of October 2023, more than 50,000 women are suing Johnson & Johnson (J&J) with claims that asbestos in talc baby powders caused them to develop cancer. The lawsuits are currently on hold pending court decisions about J&J’s bankruptcy filings. 

For more information, see our fact sheet on Johnson & Johnson talc baby powder asbestos: key facts. This post contains links to documents released via litigation and related documents.

Talc litigation documents: UCSF

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) posted the Talc Litigation Collection in November 2023. The collection includes approximately 3,500 documents UCSF gathered from multiple sources, including legal experts and publicly available documents highlighted in a Reuters investigative series into what Johnson & Johnson knew about the talc contamination and when they knew it. See also, Talc ‘baby powder’ documents at UCSF library, by the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (11.30.23)

Evidence of asbestos contamination in talc supplies

Reuters posted 57 documents related to talc and asbestos, and internal J&J lab reports from 1972-2003. The internal documents suggest the company was aware of asbestos contamination in some of its talc supplies. J&J disputed these claims and said plaintiff’s attorneys are mischaracterizing historic documents. 

FDA testing in 2019 found asbestos in a sample of J&J talc powder. J&J said its own third-party testing found no asbestos

Court documents posted by Johnson & Johnson 

J&J is posting select documents related to the talc trials on its Facts About Talc website

Marketing to African American women and other targets

Internal J&J documents suggest that it ramped up its marketing to African American women and other “key target audiences” as health concerns grew and consumer demand dropped for talc-based baby powder. 

Baby Powder Category Activity 1992 

  • “Damaging negative publicity on talc and inhalation, on talc and ovarian cancer”
  • “Investigate ethnic (African American, Hispanic) opportunities to grow the franchise” 
  • High usage rate among African Americans (52%) and Hispanics (37.6%) 
  • “The brand can increase volume in 1993 by targeting these groups” 
  • “The brand will institute an adult hispanic media program and potential launch an adult Black print effort.” 

Johnson’s Baby Powder Obstacles and Opportunities 1992

  • “Investigate ethnic (African American, Hispanic) opportunities to grow the franchise”
  • “Negative publicity from the health community on talc (inhalation, dust, negative doctor endorsement, cancer linkage) continues.” 
  • “Investigate the addition of an additive to reduce dust. Encourage the reduction of dust in use by developing advertorial copy and media strategy to promote proper way to powder and diaper a baby.”

Shower to Shower Task Force Baby Powder Brainstorm 2004 

  • “Challenge #1: Powder Category Decline: Explore needs states: pregnancy, menopause, ‘chubbiness’, diabetes” 
  • “Redefine who our targets are … Can look at men, African American women, heavy women”
  • “Celebrity endorsements … make Patti LaBelle or Aretha Franklin spokesperson”
  • “Sampling/tie-in to Weight Watchers … Focus on African American women and obesity”
  • “How to bring in new / younger users… African American consumers in particular would be good to target with more of an emotional feeling and talk about reunions among friends, etc. Team up with Ebony magazine to promote this idea” 

Johnson’s Soft Multicultural Plan 2007 

  • “Target Segmentation Study showed African-Americans & Hispanics Have Strong Affinity with JOHNSON’S”
  • Multicultural population is growing exponentially and “JOHNSON’s needs to leverage on the brand’s strength within Multicultural.” By 2050, 50% of the population will be of multicultural origin.   
  • “Details of AA Execution … AA talent to be used in print and TV executions …Ffocus on sensorial, higher-order benefits (Melt Away Stress).” 
  • “Hispanics represent the fastest growing population segment in the U.S., with increasing economic and social influence … Marketing in Spanish is key.”

Johnson’s Baby Powder marketing plan 2008 

  • “Target African Americans and several other key target audiences. Overweight women, women who exercise, Commuters, women in hotter climates.” 
  • “Run a test radio program … on highly AA stations … Online promotion/advertising on African American websites… AA Dating websites”
  • “Deliver the scratch and sniff powder brochure to target audiences: Overweight women through Lane Bryant catalog mailings, Weight Watchers programs”
  • “Test putting a Powder brochure into one of the toddler co-op programs … Reach toddler moms with a message directed to them about powder usage for them, their toddlers and sand removal”

J&J Stats on Powder Users 2009

  • ‘Baby/Body Powder usage is much higher among African American women than Caucasian women.” 
  • More than half of baby powder users between 35-54 
  • 56% of baby powder users African Americans (28% Caucasians) 
  • “Powder users are higher African American, and weigh more”
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