Johnson & Johnson Marketed Baby Powder to Black Women
Amid concerns that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum-based baby powder heightens the risk of cancer, the multinational corporation marketed its Johnson’s Baby Powder to Black women, according to claims from plaintiffs’ lawyers in a lawsuit they filed in July 2021. The lawyers represent the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
NCNW Calls Attention to Apparent Targeted Marketing
According to a statement on the NCNW website, Johnson & Johnson has placed heavy emphasis on targeting Black women with ads and marketing for the company’s talcum powder products. The statement says that J&J made this conscious decision fully knowing that these products increased the risk of ovarian cancer.
As a result of this targeted effort, African American women became the largest market of talcum powder users. NCNW cites a 2015 study showing the demographic breakdown for talcum powder users as follows:
- 44 percent: African American women
- 30 percent: White women
- 29 percent: Hispanic women
Evidence of a Deliberate Focus on Minorities and Overweight Women
In April of 2019, Reuters published a Special Report on Johnson’s Baby Powder and J&J’s efforts to market to minorities. According to the report, an internal J&J marketing memo from 1992 had surfaced, revealing a suggestion to explore “ethnic (African American, Hispanic) opportunities to grow the franchise.”
The memo points out that the negative attention from the medical community regarding talc and its link to cancer would be a major obstacle to such a campaign. The communication suggested rolling out an adult Hispanic media program and a print effort targeting adult Blacks.
Future efforts to target Black, Hispanic, and overweight women connect in a timely way with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)’s 2006 classification of cosmetic talc as “possibly carcinogenic” when used in the genital area. Coincidentally, a 2006 internal J&J marketing presentation speaks to beefing up Baby Powder sales by focusing on “under-developed geographical areas with hot weather, and higher [African American] population,” Reuters reports.
The marketing focus on Blacks, Hispanics, and “plus-sized Southerners” became evident in J&J’s distribution of Johnson’s Baby Powder samples in beauty salons and churches in African-American and Hispanic communities. A $300,000 radio campaign set out to reach “curvy Southern women 18-49 skewing African American.”
The Talc-Cancer Connection
Talc is a soft, naturally occurring mineral often found in mines that also contain asbestos, which is a known carcinogen. The mineral was the main ingredient in J&J’s popular Johnson’s Baby Powder, as well as other hygienic and cosmetic products.
Concerns over a potentially higher risk of ovarian cancer have stemmed from the talc-based powder’s use in the genital area. For women who have not had surgeries like hysterectomies or fallopian tube-tying, the pathway is open for powder particles to travel into the fallopian tubes and ovaries. Once there, the particles can cause inflammation and DNA changes that could lead to cancer.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), scientific literature published as far back as the 1960s has suggested a link between the application of talc in the genital area and an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Furthermore, since the 1970s, questions have been raised about the potential asbestos-contaminated talc.
J&J Baby Powder Recalls
In October of 2019, the FDA announced that J&J voluntarily recalled a single lot of its Johnson’s Baby Powder after a sample of the lot tested positive for asbestos. The FDA advised consumers to stop using this lot of the company’s baby powder.
Then, in May of 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop selling Johnson’s Baby Powder in the United States and Canada. The decision came on the heels of a court order for the company to pay out billions in lawsuits claiming that the powder caused plaintiffs’ cancer.
The company denies any causal link between its talc-based products and cancer. Instead, it announced that declining demand, changes in consumer habits, and misinformation prompted the decision to cease sales of Johnson’s Baby Powder in these markets.