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After damaging Reuters report Johnson & Johnson doubles down on talc safety message

Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder

FILE PHOTO: A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Child Powder is seen in a photograph illustration taken in New York, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Illustration

Johnson & Johnson Inc’s assertion was unequivocal.

“The FDA has tested Johnson’s talc since the ’70s. Every single time it did not contain asbestos,” the corporate stated in a Dec. 19 tweet. It adopted by a number of days the publication of a Reuters investigation (right here) that discovered the healthcare conglomerate knew for many years that the carcinogen lurked in its Child Powder and different beauty talc merchandise.

The tweet, posted underneath the deal with @JNJNews, didn’t point out that the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered traces of asbestos within the firm’s Bathe to Bathe talc in 1973, as revealed in company paperwork right here reviewed by Reuters. And it is just certainly one of dozens of tweets conveying an analogous message about talc safety because the Reuters article appeared Dec. 14.

The Reuters article prompted a inventory selloff that erased about $40 billion from J&J’s market worth in at some point and created a public relations disaster because the blue-chip healthcare conglomerate confronted widespread questions concerning the potential well being results of certainly one of its most iconic merchandise.

To reassure buyers and shoppers, J&J has tweeted, posted on Fb, run a collection of full-page newspaper advertisements throughout america, revealed a prolonged rebuttal to the Reuters investigation on its web site and introduced a $5 billion inventory buyback. Chairman and Chief Government Officer Alex Gorsky has appeared in an organization video and on CNBC’s “Mad Money” to strengthen the corporate’s place.

That place has been unwavering. J&J insists that its Child Powder is protected and has been asbestos-free at the very least since common testing started within the 1970s. The message doubles down on the stance the corporate has taken to defend towards lawsuits during which about 11,700 plaintiffs allege that the J&J talc they utilized in previous many years brought on their most cancers. The corporate is pursuing this technique regardless of the proof that talc in its uncooked and completed powders typically examined constructive for the carcinogen from the 1970s into the early 2000s — check outcomes that the corporate didn’t confide in regulators or shoppers.

In response to a Reuters request for remark, the corporate stated it’s dedicated to defending the talc litigation, “and that same, long-term view is reflected in our ongoing communications that consistently point to the strong scientific evidence that our talc is and always has been safe.”

As for the 1973 Bathe to Bathe check, J&J famous that the outcome didn’t “reflect FDA’s final determination about this sample” in a 1976 desk summarizing the company’s early 1970s beauty talc testing. Nevertheless, in that 1976 desk, which Reuters examined, the FDA didn’t point out any outcome, constructive or destructive, for the kind of asbestos discovered within the Bathe to Bathe pattern in 1973.

Given the mass of litigation it faces, J&J has little selection however to zealously dispute findings that its merchandise typically contained traces of asbestos, stated Eric Dezenhall, a crisis-management advisor in Washington, D.C. “If your position in court is that the claims being made are false…you can’t just shrug your shoulders,” he stated.

Quickly after the Reuters article appeared, J&J executives consulted crisis-management specialists, in line with individuals acquainted with the matter. Among the many firm’s causes for deciding to take care of its stance on absolute talc purity, these individuals stated, was a conviction that an organization recognized for placing well being and safety first had the information on its aspect, a litigation monitor report that included victories and mistrials, and the expectation that antagonistic verdicts shall be overturned on attraction.

Lots of J&J’s subsequent messages have mirrored the corporate’s written responses to questions and findings Reuters introduced to the corporate throughout its investigation: They deny that the corporate stored info from regulators and level to the various research discovering that talc is protected and doesn’t trigger most cancers.

These earlier responses have been composed by J&J’s outdoors litigators, led by Peter Bicks at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, and conveyed to Reuters by legal professionals at a crisis-management agency co-founded by Lanny Davis, a lawyer who represented U.S. President Invoice Clinton within the 1990s and Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer who has pleaded responsible to a number of felony fees.

Gorsky, in his look on “Mad Money,” invoked J&J’s now legendary response to the Tylenol disaster as proof that the corporate may be trusted to deal with any safety issues linked to its merchandise. In 1982, J&J moved decisively to tug all Tylenol from retailer cabinets after seven individuals died from taking cyanide-laced tablets.

“I can’t believe the company that took that dramatic of an action would allow a product that they felt in any way could be harmful to stay on the market,” Gorsky advised “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer. “We unequivocally believe that our talc, our Baby Powder, does not contain asbestos.”

Citing the Tylenol recall supplies “some reputational buffer,” stated Stephen A. Greyser, the Harvard Enterprise Faculty professor who wrote the primary research of the corporate’s dealing with of that disaster. “But it is not a total protection” as a result of it gained’t defend the corporate from a lack of belief if shoppers or buyers conclude the corporate hasn’t been absolutely forthcoming on this case, he stated. J&J wants to protect towards “reputational contagion,” the danger that a lack of confidence in Child Powder might bleed over into how shoppers, shareholders and others view the corporate extra broadly, Greyser added.

The important thing distinction between the 2 crises is that poisoned Tylenol introduced a menace to shoppers on the time, whereas the documented asbestos contamination of J&J talc that Reuters investigated spanned from 1971 to the early 2000s. J&J says that if it believed that Child Powder right now introduced safety dangers, it wouldn’t hesitate to take away it from retailer cabinets, provided that the product accounts for lower than zero.5% of annual income.

The corporate joined its talc provider, Imerys Talc America, a unit of Paris-based Imerys SA, in requesting that a trial scheduled for January in St. Louis be delayed for, amongst different issues, what they referred to as “negative national and local news coverage” ensuing from the Reuters investigation that may inevitably taint potential jurors.

The decide denied the movement. The identical decide just lately upheld a $four.69 billion jury award in a separate ovarian most cancers case, which J&J says it expects to be overturned on attraction. The decide stated J&J’s promotion of a product that the proof confirmed was contaminated with a recognized carcinogen was “particularly reprehensible.”

In an emailed assertion, Imerys Talc America stated it “is committed to the quality and safety of its products,” and that rigorous analysis “overwhelmingly confirms that talc is safe, and no agency has asserted that talc causes cancer.”

A few of J&J’s messages in its current marketing campaign omit key particulars relating to findings on talc and, in sure situations, are undermined by different proof, in accordance with a Reuters evaluate of the corporate’s statements.

The Dec. 19 tweet claiming that the FDA’s personal exams by no means discovered asbestos in J&J talc, for instance, ignores an company scientist’s 1973 discovering that a Bathe to Bathe pattern contained asbestos fibers, in accordance with a replica of an FDA report titled “Asbestos and Other Contaminants in Talc” and a deposition of a former J&J head toxicologist. The FDA didn’t reply to questions for this text, citing a partial authorities shutdown.

On CNBC, Gorsky stated: “We also not only used the best testing methodologies that were available, but we continued to improve them through the years.”

J&J’s testing strategies do exceed the business normal. Besides, as a geologist and frequent J&J professional witness acknowledged in courtroom this yr, solely a tiny fraction of the corporate’s talc bought over the previous 40 years has been examined utilizing what’s widely known as the perfect technique to detect asbestos fibers, generally known as transmission electron microscopy.

Plaintiffs’ legal professionals are already homing in on inconsistencies between J&J’s statements and different proof relating to its talc, and they’re planning to depose Gorsky in coming weeks.

“There is no flexibility in what they’re saying,” stated Leigh O’Dell, one of many lead legal professionals representing plaintiffs in hundreds of lawsuits towards J&J consolidated in a New Jersey federal courtroom. “Taking these statements on behalf of the company and pointing out to juries and judges the misrepresentations contained in those statements — I think you’re going to see that in every case going forward, whether it’s an ovarian cancer case or a mesothelioma case.”

Certainly one of J&J’s current tweets criticized plaintiffs’ legal professionals: “Far from a new theory or insight, plaintiffs’ lawyers have resurrected a disproven argument about asbestos in our talc that dates to the 1970s.”

The Reuters investigation discovered that exams by J&J’s personal contract labs and others periodically discovered small quantities of asbestos in talc from mines that provided the mineral for Child Powder as just lately because the early 2000s.

Some J&J tweets and newspaper advertisements have adopted a question-and-answer format. “What about the allegation you withheld safety information?” the corporate stated in a full-page advert in USA At this time the day after Christmas.

“It is false,” the corporate stated. “All safety concerns are taken seriously, and we share all relevant information with regulators.”

Some Twitter customers have responded to J&J’s tweets with reward and help. Others have referenced their relations’ longtime use of J&J talc merchandise and subsequent deaths from ovarian most cancers. “We’re very sorry to hear this,” J&J responded to a number of Twitter customers, expressing a want to talk with them and providing a telephone quantity to name.

In response to a different current tweet by which J&J stated its talc doesn’t include asbestos, one Twitter consumer requested: “Did it USED to?”

“No,” J&J responded. “For decades, J&J’s baby powder has repeatedly been tested for asbestos and found not to contain asbestos.”

Further reporting by Alison Frankel. Edited by John Blanton

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