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Johnson & Johnson stopped selling the talc-based power in the US and Canada in 2020, citing flagging sales © REUTERS

Johnson & Johnson has said it will discontinue production of its talc-based baby powder in 2023, as it battles almost 40,000 legal claims that the product caused users to fall ill with cancer.

The US drugmaker said on Thursday that it had decided to transition to a cornstarch-based baby powder, which it has already launched in the US and Canadian markets.

J&J said its position on the safety of the talc-based product, which has been sold for more than a century and is closely associated with the J&J brand, was unchanged.

“We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based JOHNSON’S® Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the company said in a statement.

J&J stopped selling the talc-based power in the US and Canada in 2020, citing flagging sales. That decision coincided with a deluge of court cases from people who claimed that J&J’s talc-based baby powder product had been tainted with asbestos and caused them to develop either ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.

J&J has lost several big cases, including a Missouri decision that awarded $4.7bn in damages to 22 women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in the drugmaker’s baby powder. In June, the Supreme Court refused to review the case, in which the damages had already been reduced to $2.1bn.

Last year J&J deployed a controversial bankruptcy strategy known as the “Texas two step” to help it manage the almost 40,000 cases.

The bankruptcy manoeuvre utilised business-friendly laws in Texas that allowed J&J to split itself into two separate entities and ringfence all its talc liabilities within a subsidiary, which it called LTL. LTL then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which put a stay on all talc claims.

Claimants have launched legal proceedings in an attempt to throw out the bankruptcy.

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