Massive payout for talc "victims"

July 22, 2018

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, Talc, Scaremongering

We talked about a court case a while ago involving Johnson & Johnson, and a claim that asbestos in their talcum powder has been giving people cancer. A new decision in the US (opens new window) has seen a court award damages of nearly NZ$7 billion to 22 people who claim to have been affected by this issue.

Interestingly, no talcum powder sold in the US has had asbestos in it since the 1970s, but in this case the lawyers argued that there is asbestos in Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder.

Back in 2016 skeptic Steven Novella wrote a great article where he summarised the evidence for genital talc use causing cancer. He found that, although several papers showed an increased risk of ovarian cancer for talc users (~30% increase), there was no dose-response curve that would be expected from a carcinogen - the idea that the more you take of something, the more chance you have of it causing the disease. Steven put this down to most likely meaning that there were issues with reporting, where people with ovarian cancer were more likely to remember genital talc use in the past than people who didn't have cancer.

Even if the figures are real, the absolute risk increase means that for every million genital talcers, four would end up with ovarian cancer. The 22 people who have won a payout suggest that either they didn't all get cancer from talcum powder, or that putting talcum powder on your genitals is a very popular thing to do in the US.

The 1 news article says that 9,000 women in the US have sued Johnson & Johnson claiming that they caused their ovarian cancer.

Johnson & Johnson are going to appeal this decision, given the lack of solid evidence and the fact that every finding against them in the past has been reversed. It's sad that chemophobia, a fear of "chemicals", is being pushed so hard that people are buying into it - and buying "alternative" natural products as a result. It's a marketing scam, pure and simple.