India is a part of the pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson’s (J&J) “worldwide portfolio assessment and commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio.’’
In its statement the Company said that as a result of this transition, talc-based Johnson’s baby powder will be discontinued globally in 2023.
The announcement earlier this month comes two years after J&J discontinued the product in the U.S. and Canada.
Child rights groups, parents and doctors have been questioning the continued availability of the product here in India. Indian drug regulators have been silent on this issue; allowing wide availability and sale of this product in the country.
The Company has said that “In India there is no plan to withdraw this talc and that there will be no recall. The product is safe and will be available till manufacturing stops.’’
“Product caused ovarian cancer”
The Company’s decision to stop production comes following multiple lawsuits from women who claim that the product caused them to have ovarian cancer, due to the alleged contamination of asbestos, a known carcinogen.
The Company has maintained that their older (which is not corn-starch-based) product is safe.
“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms that talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the Company said in its statement.
“In India, the Company is late in implementing the strategy which has been adapted in the western part of the world. If a product is being discontinued for manufacturing, why should it be sold and why not recall it?”questioned Dr. Suresh Kumar Panuganti, lead consultant-Pediatric Critical Care, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad.
“Inhaling talc leads to respiratory illnesses”
For decades now doctors have advised parents not to use talcum powder on babies, even if it does not contain asbestos, cautioning that inhaling the talc can lead to respiratory illnesses.
Dr. Syed Mustafa Hasan, director and senior consultant, Paediatrics and Neonatology, Aakash Healthcare said that we already know the harmful effects of asbestos, which has been found in their talc-based baby powder, on respiratory health. Asbestos is primarily a building material commonly used in India during the 1980s, often in fireproofing and insulation.
“When talc is contaminated with asbestos, it is more likely to contain highly carcinogenic tremolite or anthophyllite. They are considered more carcinogenic than chrysotile, the most-used type of asbestos. Prolonged breathing of asbestos increases the risk of multiple cancers, including lung and colon cancer. Infants and children below the age group of 5 are five times more likely to get affected than a 30-year-old adult to develop mesothelioma, a type of cancer linked to asbestos if they are exposed to it at the same time. This is because a child’s organs are more tender than an adult’s. Talcum powders are harmful for both the mother and baby,’’ he explained.
In India the National Commission of Protection for Child Rights (NCPCR) had raised questions with the drug regulator over the lack of uniformity in the testing methods for detecting the presence of formaldehyde and asbestos (both identified as substances that promote the formation of cancer in humans) in J&J’s baby shampoo and talcum powder. A final decision on the matter is pending, noted a senior Health Ministry official.
The Company has explained its transition to cornstarch-based baby powder stating that they continuously evaluate and optimize their portfolio to best position the business for long-term growth.
“Already sold in other countries”
“This transition will help simplify our product offerings, deliver sustainable innovation, and meet the needs of our consumers, customers and evolving global trends,’’ it maintained while admitting that the cornstarch-based Johnson’s Baby Powder was already sold in countries around the world.
Dr. Sumit Chakravarty, senior consultant Neonatologist, Asian Hospital explained that asbestos—a potential carcinogen—is certainly the culprit in one of the brands, but the others need to check their level as well. He reiterated that in children the use of talc is not recommended as the particles can reach the lungs through the nose and cause acute respiratory illnesses, sometimes severe enough to get the child admitted.
The Indian baby care products market is highly competitive, with various regional and global players holding major shares and involved in their growth. The major players expanding their business are Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé SA, The Procter & Gamble Company, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, and Himalaya Global Holdings Ltd., collectively holding the majority share of the overall market, said a report by Mordor Intelligence, a market intelligence and advisory firm.