Hyderabadi advocate fights for a ban on Johnson Baby Powder

Hyderabad: Advocate G.V Rao from Alwal is not new to filing cases in the courts. However, it is advocate Rao’s lawsuit against corporate biggie Johnson and Johnson (J&J) Private Limited that is in the limelight. The case is relevant now, in the wake of the October 17 report by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA. The FDA found cancer-causing asbestos in Johnson’s baby powder. In the wake of this finding, the company has withdrawn 33,000 bottles from the US.

J&J has several lawsuits against it in the US. However, Mr Rao is still waiting for J&J and the authorities to acknowledge that the baby powder they sell is carcinogenic.

In his complaint filed against J&J in August 2017 before the Consumer Redressal Forum in the Rangareddy District Court, Mr Rao asked for the removal of the product from the market and for production to be stopped. Mr Rao argued that use of the J&J powder is shown to cause ovarian cancer by competent courts in the US.

He further pointed out that the company does not inform the consumer if the powder has been tested and found to be safe for use. Nor does it bear the BIS Standard Mark (ISI Mark).

On enquiring about the company’s response in court, Mr Rao told NewsMeter, “In their counter-petition, J&J said that they have no material record of any harm the complainant suffered due to their baby powder.”

He adds, “Unfortunately, this defect arises only after 20-30 years of use. It’s not like a fan or something where we test it and find that some part of it is defective. Over a continuous period of use, as seen in America and Europe, these particles have proven to embed themselves into the ovaries of women, in turn causing ovarian cancer.”

It is pertinent to note that international research on cancer has shown all talc-based body powders advertised for perineal use (which is where most of the sweating occurs) to be “probably/possibly carcinogenic”.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in its 2010 report had categorically stated that this might lead to ovarian cancer. Johnson’s baby powder has no cautionary note specifying this critical point. Nor does it mention that it should be used only on the body and not for perineal/genital use.

Mr Rao further alleges that while J&J assured that they would conduct further trials about the safety of the product, they have not submitted any evidence proving the same in court.

“In their emails to me, they admitted that they are aware of the judgements in the USA and that they are doing further trials to prove it is safe. But they have not produced anything in court to show that they have conducted the trials. They have not filed a single document to show it is safe, either from Bureau of Indian Standards (BSI) or Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO). They have done nothing except repeat that the product is not defective,” he said.

The Johnson and Johnson company has been in hot water after it lost two lawsuits in the US over links between its talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Indian authorities have also been pressurising the company to revise their safety standards over the past year.

A public relations official for Johnson & Johnson told NewsMeter, “If you go back to 28th February 2019, there is a statement by Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) where they had tested our talcum powder and it was found to be of standard quality. The government has tested and founded it to be safe.” On enquiring about the show-cause notice that was issued by DCGI to the company for using government reports to support their product, the official replied, “There is nothing as a show cause notice. Their point was that you all should not use content from the test report which is not used in our advertisement.” As per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, advertising claims based on a government test report can attract a penalty. Further comments from the company about the case are awaited. 

“There is less awareness about talcum powder causing cancer among people here. And if somebody gets ovary cancer and dies, nobody would even know if the culprit was Johnson Baby powder. People are more aware in the US and Europe about this.
“Both sides of the case have been heard at the consumer court. I think the verdict will be pronounced soon and then we will get to know what is to be done in this case,” he concludes.

Amritha Mohan

Amritha Mohan

Amritha Mohan is currently reporting for the NewsMeter. A postgraduate from Hyderabad Central University, Amritha began her career by teaching Journalism and Mass Communication at NEHU, Shillong. She has interned with Greater Kashmir newspaper and Newslaundry.

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