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Johnson and Johnson: A History of Evil

Jessica Assaf

Johnson and Johnson was recently ordered to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s baby powder. This means that there is a direct link between one of the most popular baby products on the market and cancer. Johnson and Johnson is considered the “most trustworthy brand” by Forbes, and the company is praised for its “consumer healthcare products.” Just last week, I had a case at Harvard Business School about Johnson and Johnson’s investment in an employee mental health program. After the class discussion, while the company executive was speaking, I wanted to ask him if they established the mental health program to ease employee guilt over the fact that Johnson and Johnson was knowingly putting harmful products on the market.

I have a longstanding history with the company, beginning when I found out that Johnson and Johnson formulated their “No More Tears” baby shampoo with 1,4 dioxane and quaternium-15, two formaldehyde-releasing preservatives classified as known human carcinogens by the EPA. I was shocked that America’s most trusted brand was using carcinogens in their baby shampoo, and no one was talking about it. So I created stickers that said “No More Toxic Tears” and applied them to products in stores. I was able to generate some press, and I joined the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to educate consumers and boycott Johnson and Johnson until they agreed to reformulate. With widespread consumer pressure, the company finally took responsibility and promised to phase the chemicals out of the product. They launched an “improved formula” version of the baby shampoo, and all concern diminished.

Now it is confirmed that Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder is linked to cancer. This product is a household staple, used by millions of families around the world. By buying this product, we are complying. We are accepting the fact that this billion-dollar industry is exposing consumers to cancer-causing chemicals. The worst part of all is that these products are used primarily on infants and young children, who are exceptionally vulnerable to chemical exposures. This is not the first story about Johnson and Johnson’s concerning products, and it will not be the last, unless we act now.

If you believe that family products should not contain ingredients known to cause cancer, stop buying from the Johnson and Johnson brand until they reformulate and make safer products. Consumers like us are best positioned to impact real change. It is up to us to set new health and safety standards for ourselves and for our children.