Schakowsky, Pressley Question Johnson & Johnson on Harmful Products and Targeted Marketing to Women & Girls of Color

December 10, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky seeking information on the targeted marketing and sale of the company’s talc-based baby powder and its potential to cause harm, particularly to women, teenage girls, and people of color, due to asbestos contamination. Johnson & Johnson has refused all invitations to testify before Congress, including Tuesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing examining carcinogens in talc.

“Due to your failure to testify before Congress, you have significantly hindered our oversight of your company,” wrote the Congresswomen in their letter. “Despite that, it is our constitutional responsibility to ensure that consumers are accessing safe and healthy products, especially cosmetics and personal care products that are used daily.”

In 1987, talc-based cosmetic products containing asbestos were classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization. In 2006, IARC confirmed perineal use of talc to be “possibly carcinogenic,” prompting a large-scale talc-supplier to include that warning in shipments to all customers, including Johnson & Johnson. However, Johnson & Johnson never passed the warning on to consumers, and instead embarked on a “multicultural marketing” campaign for their baby powder, targeting Black and Latina women.

“It is imperative that personal care products receive additional scrutiny in order to better ensure their safety. Toward that end, the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019 (H.R. 4296), introduced on September 12, 2019, establishes a robust regulatory framework to ensure the safety of cosmetics and personal care products,” wrote the Congresswomen in their letter. “However, this bill and other proposed federal cosmetic safety legislation is currently under consideration by Congress.”

On October 18, 2019, bowing to increasing public pressure, Johnson & Johnson announced their first-ever voluntary recall of 33,000 bottles of baby powder based on the the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s findings of asbestos contamination. However, on December 3, 2019, the company issued a press release touting new, privately-conducted safety tests that supposedly refute FDA’s findings, indicating that they plan to halt the recall. There is currently no law that allows FDA to engage in a mandatory recall of dangerous or life-threatening cosmetics and personal care products.

“…until FDA is given more statutory authority to conduct cosmetic ingredient safety review and mandatory recall, we emphatically urge you to voluntarily warn consumers about the inhalation hazard and risk of cancer posed by your talc-based products. These warnings must be explicit and readily available on product labels so that consumers can make informed decisions about the products they put on their bodies,” wrote the Congresswomen in their letter. “We also urge you to halt all deceptive marketing practices specifically targeting women and young girls of color.”

The lawmakers requested information and documentation regarding Johnson & Johnson’s targeted marketing practices and scientific testing methods for their talc-based products by no later than December 20, 2019.

A copy of the letter is available PDF iconHERE.


PDF iconSchakowsky Pressley_Ltr to Johnson and Johnson_FINAL.pdf