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Johnson & Johnson to stop selling baby powder globally in 2023

Johnson & Johnson said it plans to stop selling its legacy talc-based baby-powder products globally in 2023, a move that comes amid continued legal battles and years after the company discontinued the product in the US and Canada.

J&J said Thursday that it had made the “commercial decision” to transition all its baby powder products to use cornstarch instead of talcum powder after conducting an assessment of its portfolio. The health conglomerate, which maintains the product is safe, has for almost a decade faced lawsuits accusing it of hiding cancer risks tied its talc-based baby powder, Bloomberg reports.

“We continuously evaluate and optimize our portfolio to best position the business for long-term growth,” spokesperson Melissa Witt said in an emailed statement. “Today’s decision is part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, which evaluated several factors, including differences in demand for our products across geographic regions and evolving consumer trends and preferences.”

Shares of the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company rose less than 1% in post-market trading and had fallen 2.3% so far this year through Thursday’s close.

In May 2020, as J&J navigated thousands of lawsuits accusing the product of causing some users’ cancers, the company pulled its talc-based powders from the US and Canadian markets, citing another “commercial decision” based on declining sales.

“After decades of selling talc-based products the company knew could cause deadly cancers to unsuspecting women and men around the world, J&J has finally done the right thing,” Leigh O’Dell, a lawyer for former talc users, said in an emailed statement Thursday. “They stopped sales in North America more than two years ago. The delay in taking this step is inexcusable.”

Talcum powder has long been used in baby products because the mineral keeps skin dry and prevents diaper rash. The mines that produce the powder, however, can also yield asbestos, a mineral once used in products such as building insulation that researchers have linked to cancers. Some consumer companies have found corn starch can offer the same benefits of talc without the asbestos risk.

J&J said Thursday that its “position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged.”

The health conglomerate has spent years seeking ways to contain its legal liabilities. It faces 40,300 lawsuits in the US over its talc-based powders, according to a company filing last month with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

J&J sought bankruptcy protection for its newly created LTL Management LLC unit last year after arguing it was struggling to contain the lawsuits.