The link between talc products and deadly illnesses is a source of continuing controversy that has put a prominent, longtime manufacturer under the microscope. To date, Johnson & Johnson has been named a defendant in more than 19,000 lawsuits, with many still pending. Plaintiffs filing suit allege the presence of asbestos in their products, resulting in various forms of serious and fatal cancer diagnoses, including mesothelioma.

A Sincere Gesture or Strategic Posturing?

Facing a continuing avalanche of legal actions, J&J recently announced that sales of their famed Baby Powder containing talc would cease in the United States and Canada. Seemingly, they were doing the right thing. Yet, their response revealed that it was for the wrong reasons.

Instead of admitting talc’s relationship to asbestos, a cancer-causing carcinogen, they cited reduced demand of the powder due to what they see as misinformation about the product’s safety. J&J remains confident that “decades of studies” on their Baby Powder back up their claim.

The long path to litigation started with a Reuters investigative report two years ago that alleged the close proximity of talc and asbestos in mining that resulted in a deadly mixing of a safe product with a carcinogen. While J&J denies any knowledge, records dating back nearly 50 years reveal otherwise, noting that the company’s own baby powder tests revealed trace amounts of asbestos.

J&J’s legal problems go beyond civil claims of negligence with ongoing federal criminal investigations. Meanwhile, international sales of Baby Powder, a tentpole product launched in 1894, will likely minimize the fallout from their lengthy fall from grace.

Whether one of the most trusted brands nationally can earn back consumers’ trust remains in question.