Johnson & Johnson’s Marketing of Talc Products to African-American and Latina Women

Johnson & Johnson’s Marketing of Talc Products to African-American and Latina WomenOn August 21, 2017, a Los Angeles jury awarded Eva Echeverria $417 million in her case against Johnson & Johnson. Ms. Echeverria was a life-long user of the company’s talc-based products, and used the product after her ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2007. In fact, she only stopped using it in 2016, when she discovered there was a lawsuit filed against the company.

Ms. Echeverria’s case, while tragic, is not unique; thousands of women have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, all claiming they developed ovarian cancer after decades of use. The first successful jury verdict against the company came in 2016, on behalf of the family of Jacqueline Fox. Ms. Fox, who died before the verdict was rendered, was an African-American woman. Ms. Echeverria’s last name is Spanish. They represent the thousands of minority women to whom Johnson & Johnson marketed its feminine hygiene products. A 1992 memo, obtained by Bloomberg, lists under the heading “Major Opportunities”:

“Investigate ethnic (African American, Hispanic) opportunities to grow the franchise. Johnson’s Baby Powder has a high usage rate among African-Americans (52.0%) and among Hispanics (37.6%)…. The brand can increase volume in 1993 by targeting these groups.” A handwritten note just underneath states: “The brand will institute an adult hispanic [sic] media program and potentially launch an adult Black print effort.”

Directly beneath that note is a list of major obstacles: negative publicity caused by “cancer linkage” is typed out.

Why all of this matters

How and why companies choose to market their products is worth reviewing, no matter who the target audience is. One study conducted by George Washington University found that “A greater proportion of black women than white and Mexican American women reported use of vaginal douches, feminine spray, feminine powder, and wipes/towelettes.” The Atlantic reports that hygiene practices, like douching, have increased in the Latin community over the last few years.

Robin Means Coleman, a University of Michigan professor of communications studies and Afro-American Studies, sums up the dilemma perfectly: “Some people might say, ‘What’s wrong with companies recognizing women of color as important consumers?’ We do want that. But we do not want companies to market potentially carcinogenic products.”

And herein lies the rub: Johnson & Johnson knew it had a potentially carcinogenic product on the market, and then intentionally marketed that product to minority communities. Even though Black women in particular tend to have lower rates of ovarian cancer than white women do, they, along with Latinas, have been exponentially affected by talc-related cancer. That exposure can be linked to marketing efforts by Johnson & Johnson.

At McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC, we fight for women and their families. Our team of experienced South Carolina mass tort attorneys helps protect you when you or your loved one has been injured because of a defective product. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free consultation, please call 803-327-7800 or fill out our contact form.

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