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Vietnam grills Johnson & Johnson about cessation of talc-based baby powder sales

Friday, May 22, 2020, 16:30 GMT+7
Vietnam grills Johnson & Johnson about cessation of talc-based baby powder sales
Bottles of Johnson's baby powder are displayed in a store in New York City, U.S., January 22, 2019. Photo: Reuters

The Drug Administration of Vietnam is asking for an explanation from American healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson of a halt to the sale of talcum-based baby powder in the United States and Canada amid accusations that the flagship product contains a cancer-causing substance.

This move was made considering the cause of the sales cessation, responses by management agencies in other countries, and information on product safety, a representative of the administration told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

The source said the drug regulator will send a written request to the company.

Over the past few years, the agency has inspected talc-based baby powder several times amid reports about the quality of the product, which is a popular choice among Vietnamese parents for their babies.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement on May 19 that as part of a portfolio assessment related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the company in March stopped shipping hundreds of items in the U.S. and Canada.

The move was said “to prioritize high-demand products and to allow for appropriate social distancing in manufacturing and distribution facilities during this unprecedented pandemic.”

Subsequently, the company decided to permanently discontinue roughly 100 stock-keeping units from the March assessment, as well as talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder.

“This discontinuation is only effective in the U.S. and Canada,” said the company, adding that Johnson’s Baby Powder represents around 0.5 percent of the total U.S. consumer health business.

The company explained demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining, due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.

Reuters said in a news report that Johnson & Johnson faces more than 19,000 lawsuits from consumers and their survivors claiming its talc products caused cancer, due to contamination with asbestos, a known carcinogen.

However, the company said in the statement that it “remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder,” citing “decades of scientific studies.”

“We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the company in the courtroom. All verdicts against the company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned,” said the company.

In a report in 1994, Reuters said that Johnson & Johnson was among about 20 United States companies that set up offices in Vietnam since February 1994, when then-U.S. President Bill Clinton lifted a 30-year-old economic embargo against the Southeast Asian country.

It was not until 2011 that the firm established its wholly subsidiary, called Johnson & Johnson (Vietnam) Co. Ltd., in Ho Chi Minh City, which acts as the official distributor of the giant’s products in the nation.

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