J&J Targets Women of Color According to Lawsuit in Missouri

Product Liability
Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer Lawsuits

By Sean Lally, Staff Writer

In 2016, Johnson & Johnson lost its first lawsuit, paying $72 million to relatives of Jacqueline Fox who died of ovarian cancer after years of using the company’s talcum-powder products. In total, over 1,000 lawsuits have been filed by women claiming the company marketed talc-based products knowing full well that their products posed major health risks.

Plaintiff lawyers, currently handling the sixth suit to occur in Missouri, claim that the company attempted to boost sales with a marketing campaign targeting African American women. This, if true, would be especially egregious because African American women are already more likely to get cancer from using talc.

Plaintiff Lawyers’ Opening Statement

The plaintiffs, family members of the deceased victims, asserted in an opening statement that, in response to decreased sales, J&J consciously directed their marketing strategy toward minority women who use talc-based products at higher rates. According to the plaintiffs’ opening statement, the company knew that African American women were more likely to contract “the most deadly form of female cancer out there.” At bottom, they contended that the company should have labeled the product to warn consumers of the risks.

In court, the plaintiffs suggested that J&J attempted to persuade the FDA to forego a rule requiring the company to put cancer warning labels on the products. J&J has denied all allegations. The five recent talcum powder trials against the company resulted in J&J paying over $300 million to victims.

Supporting Arguments

In 2016, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote an article for Time Magazine entitled “Profiting From the Myths About Black Women's Bodies” in which she connected J&J’s marketing strategy to the longstanding practice of corporations taking “advantage of the beauty rituals that African American women love.”

In her article, she alluded to research published by Health Sciences Research Commons at George Washington University; she wrote, “Black women spend about four times as much as white women on hair, and twice as many black women douche and deodorize compared with our white counterparts.” And she continued, “For decades, companies, including Johnson & Johnson, continued marketing to encourage black women to spend money on talcum powder, which could cause cancer in our reproductive organs even as they promise to ‘freshen’ them.”

Even more invidious, noted Tinsley, are the racist stereotypes regarding the hygiene of African Americans. To that end, she quoted Thomas Jefferson who suggested that ''[blacks have] a very strong and disagreeable odor.” And according to Michelle Ferranti, also quoted by Tinsley, “For many recently emancipated African Americans, a clean and odor-free body signified personal progress and enterprise, and the hope for racial assimilation.” As Tinsley observed, companies like J&J are more than ready to capitalize on the myths surrounding black female hygiene, even if it means risking lives in the process.

The 1992 Memo

All of this is grounded in a 1992 memo, obtained by Fox’s lawyers, recommending that J&J should “investigate ethnic (African-American, Hispanic) opportunities to grow the franchise,” adding that this group made up a large portion of its sales. The memo even included a plan to run a print advertising campaign.

Responding to the document’s contents, a spokesperson for the company said the memo was “simply part of the company’s efforts to appropriately understand who is using its products.”

The Jury

It is important to note that the plaintiffs’ arguments have been heard by a jury in the lawsuit in Missouri. Hopefully, the jury is not persuaded by J&J’s denial, so that those who have suffered can receive the remuneration they deserve.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after years of using J&J products, be sure to contact a personal injury lawyer with the right experience so you can obtain compensation for the grievous harm inflicted by an all too powerful corporation.

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