The National Council of Negro Women has filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, alleging the company willfully marketed talcum products to Black women knowing the product caused ovarian cancer.

Janice L. Mathis, Esq. NCNW Executive Director

Johnson & Johnson engaged in a corporate pattern and practice of placing profits over the health and well-being of its customers, the lawsuit charged. In particular, the company engaged in the practice with Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, said the July 27 lawsuit.

“Beginning in at least 1982, Johnson and Johnson were aware of several studies that demonstrated that women who used talc-based baby powder in the genital area had a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer,” it continued. “In fact, since 1982, there have been 21 studies by doctors and scientists throughout the world that reported a significantly elevated risk for ovarian cancer with genital talc use. The majority of these studies show a statistically significant increased risk of ovarian cancer.”

“Defendants did not warn or inform consumers anywhere, including on the product labeling or in its marketing or advertising for the product, that use of their Powder Products may be harmful to health, including significantly increasing the risk of ovarian cancer. Even since removing their talc Powder Products from the shelves, J&J has not taken corrective action for its harmful marketing campaign,” said the lawsuit.


Numerous studies document the carcinogenic nature of talc and the effects of talc use, which is the central ingredient in J&J talcum powder products.

“On April 9, 2019, a special report by Chris Kirkham and Lisa Girion for Reuters reported that ‘Amid talc safety worries, J&J aimed ads at minority, overweight women.’ This report notes that at the very same time that talc was designated as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ and J&J’s talc supplier began including that warning on its own shipments, J&J was aggressively targeting its advertising for the Powder Products at Black women,” said the lawsuit.

“In the following years, J&J executed on this plan by, among other things, distributing samples through churches and beauty salons in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods” and launched a major campaign aimed at “curvy Southern Women 18-49 skewing African American,” the lawsuit charged.

The litigation is the latest in a surge of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over allegations that its talcum products have caused users to develop illnesses. The company is reportedly facing more than 25,000 lawsuits related to the products, and has set aside nearly $4 billion to fight legal battles, according to the New York Times.

Attorneys Ben Crump and Paul Napoli, who filed the suit against Johnson & Johnson on behalf of NCNW, said the organization has many members who used Johnson & Johnson’s powder products believing they were safe. Many may have developed cancer and many more may develop ovarian cancer in the future, said the attorneys.

Atty. Benjamin Crump

“Black women were the subject of Johnson & Johnson’s marketing and advertising campaigns for decades and were a central part of the company’s business strategy. A 2009 company business plan noted that the multicultural consumer [is] critical to business—need to maintain,” said the lawyers.

“This company, through its words and images, told Black women that we were offensive in our natural state and needed to use their products to stay fresh,” said NCNW executive director Janice Matthews. “Generations of Black women believed them and made it our daily practice to use their products in ways that put us at risk of cancer—and we taught our daughters to do the same. Shame on Johnson and Johnson.”

“As a remedy, the lawsuit is asking in part that Johnson and Johnson be held liable for the harms they created and to provide the Black women they targeted with advertising with equally targeted corrective communications that identify the risks they face,” said the lawyers. The attorneys also asked for “medical monitoring and early detection services (for) the same community that it targeted with particularity in advertising the relevant Powder Products.”

In a statement provided to National Public Radio, J&J said: “The accusations being made against our company are false, and the idea that our Company would purposefully and systematically target a community with bad intentions is unreasonable and absurd. Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, and our campaigns are multicultural and inclusive,” the company maintained.

Dr. Danita Muhammad, a family medicine specialist and health coordinator at Tuskegee University, supports the NCNW action. “There are so many products, honestly, that have been placed specifically in our communities that they know are toxic, dangerous for our health. And this seems to be another poison placed in stores that are in our neighborhoods,” she said.

“So the talcum powder, I mean, in my mind, is just one of the numerous medical atrocities that have occurred. I’ve done pretty extensive research on health care in the South. There are multiple studies on how they’ve taken out our reproductive organs. Montgomery, (Ala.) where I’m close to, I’ll say numbers like 75 percent of the Black women had a hysterectomy. They didn’t know it. Under the guise of having appendectomies, things like that come to mind as just one of the numerous medical atrocities that have occurred,” said Dr. Muhammad.

Dr. Muhammad expressed concern about possible connections between ovarian cancer and sterilization. “Why would we trust anything coming from Johnson and Johnson?” she asked, alluding to its Covid-19 vaccine. “Why would we trust anything coming from any company or institution that has to do with America’s medical system? Johnson and Johnson have already shown us that they are not about the health of any individual.” They may have targeted Blacks but are not for the health of any American, she added.

Philadelphia-based Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, medical director of Fountain Medical Associates, voiced concern about the little oversight large pharmaceutical companies receive. “What you find is they minimize side effects. They tell themselves it’s not all that bad,” said Dr. Shabazz.

The need for oversight extends to the J&J Covid-19 vaccines and other vaccines makers, she argued. “They (vaccine makers) are biased, so there always needs to be outside forces that oversee these things.” This is “an industry that every medical professional should hold under a microscope,” she said. “And to press them on potential things that could be a sign of harm. You’re not even allowed to talk about the possibility of having a problem.”

“Every industry needs oversight accountability and more accountability, and whenever there is lack of oversight and lack of accountability, then there will be potential problems,” Dr. Shabazz said.