Day: February 10, 2020

Why are juries awarding millions of dollars based on shoddy baby powder science?

There’s something amiss in our nation’s courts.

Just last week, a New Jersey jury awarded $750 million to four people who claimed baby powder products made by Johnson & Johnson had contributed to their cancer diagnoses.

In the end, that amount will actually be reduced to $186 million, a feature of New Jersey law that caps award amounts to five times the damages declared by previous rulings.

What’s amiss in this ruling is just how much the jury verdicts stray from actual scientific opinion.

Plaintiffs and their attorneys claim the company has knowingly sold asbestos-tainted talc in its baby powder for years, even though scientific studies have yet to prove a definite link between modern-day talc and any cancers.

The same has been echoed by the American Cancer Society, and the same conclusion was reached by a wide-ranging 2014 study published in the Journal of National Cancer Research Institute.

Last month, the largest-ever study on baby powder and talc was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It followed 250,000 women who used the product and found “there was not a statistically significant association” between using baby powder and any link to ovarian or other cancers.

Why, then, would the juries have sided against the science?

In the last verdict in a similar case, a St. Louis jury sided with Johnson & Johnson, finding no proof in the cases furthered by plaintiffs.

Others, though, have delivered record awards. But why?

It’s a combination of ambitious tort lawyers and misleading journalism.

Tort Lawyers and the Long Legal Pursuit

In the trial mentioned above, and in other cases I profiled in my article in the Miami Herald, attorneys specializing in injury cases have elevated what would otherwise be an open-shut case based on science to become a cause célèbre based on penalizing a large company with a familiar brand.

Indeed, the lawyers who argued this case against Johnson & Johnson made the company’s global revenue and its CEO’s compensation the baseline for compensation. It was the first trial in which J&J Chief Executive Alex Gorsky testified before a court.

In his final words to the jury, Panatier made it clear that the focus of their verdict should be on Johnson & Johnson’s conduct. “So when you think about the punitive damages, what number punishes and deters them, you’ve got to think in Johnson & Johnson terms,” he said, noting that Johnson & Johnson was a “$60 billion company.” “And you can make them pay attention. And that is an immense responsibility and it is an immense, immense task that you’ll have to try amongst the 10 of you to determine what that number should be.”

New Jersey Law Journal

What was missing from their core argument was any definitive proof that the plaintiffs were exposed to asbestos from the talc in the baby powder – or that this is how they contracted mesothelioma, a specific lung cancer.

An analysis provided by FDA and mineral experts last week could only conclude that the mineral products in question are likely too small to be adequately tested, and thus new testing would be required.

But again, that conclusion does not negate the various and recent studies that have found no connection between the baby powder and cancer.

Despite that, it hasn’t stopped leagues of injury lawyers from lining up to take their shot at winning a multi-million dollar verdict. More than 16,000 class-action plaintiffs have been assembled to sue the company in other jurisdictions.

The interest of injury lawyers, who receive sometimes up to 40% or more of the winnings, is quite clear.

Media Malpractice?

When it comes to reporting on the facts of these trials, the science is often downplayed in favor of convincing legal arguments and sensationalist headlines.

For news outlets such as Reuters and the New York Times, the decades of scientific studies are often overlooked – or at the very worst, neglected.

An oft-cited example is on the company’s cautious recall of thousands of baby powder products in October. But further tests concluded none of the batches of the company’s baby powder contained asbestos, a fact admitted by Reuters.

Most internal J&J asbestos test reports Reuters reviewed do not find asbestos. However, while J&J’s testing methods improved over time, they have always had limitations that allow trace contaminants to go undetected – and only a tiny fraction of the company’s talc is tested.


As such, it’s difficult to prove what so many lawsuits and investigative allege. Not enough for scientific analysis, but maybe enough for a courtroom and a few headlines. Herein lies the issue.

In the reports of the baby powder cases, these products and cancer are too casually linked. At least according to the studies we have provided to us.

For real understanding about what’s in the products we use and consume, it’s best to adhere to the studies and academic literature. Of course, no one wants to use anything that could prove harmful to them, and consumers should always be wary.

But, in that case, shouldn’t we look to science for those answers rather than 12 men and women sitting in a jury box? Shouldn’t that be the standard we employ for all of the important health issues of our time?

That, along with many other reasons, is why we need true legal reform in this country. We cannot afford to allow real science to be voted away in jury boxes and courtrooms.

East Africa’s #Locust plague shows we need an honest conversation about Pesticides

Devastating locust plague has hit East Africa, with swarms of insects covering an area the size of Moscow. In desperation towards this pest, farmers and police in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are using every tool available, ranging from pesticides to flamethrowers and even machine guns. Their desperation is real and justified: with large amounts of crops eaten by the hungry insect, the entire region could see a life-threatening food security disaster

The invention of pesticides has solved this problem in practically every other region of the world, and officials should be keen to look to technology, not flamethrowers to deal with this.

These types of pests have previously hit other areas of the world.

In 2015, such a scourge reached Russia, causing the destruction of 10% of its crops after a monstrous attack by thousands of locusts. Standing by their fields, farmers were ruined and desperate. Their losses were enormous. Later, consumers faced rising prices, hitting low-income households the hardest.

Through pesticides, however, modern chemistry has given us the tools to defend ourselves against plagues on our fields and in our cities. Instead of losing a large part of our yields of crops, these products have guaranteed us greater food security. That should be championed.

But in today’s mantra, pesticides are considered undesirable. It goes without saying that a pesticide requires professional and precise use, and certainly not all farmers have been equally rigorous. The general demonisation of all pesticide use has thus failed to deliver an intelligent or even environmentally friendly policy.

Abandoning the use of pesticides completely has ruinous effects.

Over in the Netherlands, the Pest Advice and Knowledge Centre warns in major newspapers that new rat infestations are imminent as the country prepares to restrict the use of rat poison from 2023 onwards. It has already been banned in outdoor areas, but now indoor use will also be banned, as RTL Nieuws reports.

The rat invasion in Paris tells a similar story. In January 2018, the government launched a 1.7 million euro anti-rat campaign to reduce the number of disease-ridden rodents. A total of 4,950 anti-rat operations took place between January 2018 and July 2018 compared to 1,700 the previous year. Not only have these efforts failed, they have also fallen short of appeasing those who desire no human effect on the environment around us. An online petition denouncing the “rat genocide” and calling for an end to the exterminations was widely circulated. It collected 26,000 signatures.

But we cannot allow a rat infestation. If we strive for healthy cities, we cannot have our homes and streets “shared” with rats. Otherwise the consequences of our inaction will lead to considerable health problems. The same applies to other species.

A study by researchers in Biology Letters, including French researcher Céline Bellard PhD, showed in 2016 that alien or invasive species are the “second most common threat” associated with the extinction of animals and wildlife since AD 1500. And for at least three of the five different animal species examined, these invasive species are the number one killer.

This is a significant problem in the European Union. The EU suffers €12 billion worth of damage each year due to the effects of these plagues on human health, damaged infrastructure and agricultural losses.

According to a report from 2015, 354 species are at significant risk, including 229 animals, 124 plants and 1 fungus. Invasive species include Spanish slugs, the bacterium xylella fastidiosa, and the Asian long-horned beetle. The traditional reader will have no direct concept of what they look like, and since there are no domestic equivalents, there will probably be no petition by activists either.

Farmers in Africa should not be scared into giving up all pesticides, as controlled use is essential for a productive agricultural system and a viable ecosystem.

Education is therefore key. Prudence about pesticides cannot and must never become an ideological obsession. Controlled, scientifically based use of pesticides remains an absolute necessity for our farmers and cities. If we fail to understand this crucial fact, we will become our own pest.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

The Myth of the Vaping Crisis is Sparking a New War on Flavored Nicotine Products – And That Harms Consumers

In the backdrop of a very busy Congress, members of the U.S. House are pushing a bill that would eradicate entire categories of flavored nicotine products.

This sweeping ban would directly harm consumers who use menthol tobacco, flavored cigars, snus, and vaping products by outlawing the products they use and pushing them to the black market.

The proposed law comes in the wake of the much-hyped “vaping crisis” that transpired over the summer, in which thousands of individuals suffered lung damage from inhaling vapor products, also called e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI).

In the end, the culprit was revealed to be illegal cannabis vaping cartridges loaded with Vitamin E acetate and not nicotine vaping products, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Read the Consumer Choice Center Policy Primer: Myths and Facts on Vaping: What Policymakers Should Know

Though scientific experts correctly identified the cause of the injuries – black market THC cannabis vape cartridges – that hasn’t stopped legislators from using that pretext to introduce new prohibitions on flavored tobacco products used responsibly by adult consumers.

H.R. 2339, named the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019, proposes several sweeping changes to flavored consumer products and is expected to soon hit the House floor for a vote.

The bill would outlaw the following:

  • Menthol products
  • Flavored cigars and cigarillos
  • Flavored smokeless tobacco, known as snus or dip.
  • Some flavored vaping products

The goal is to significantly reduce or eliminate youth use of these products, which is a noble pursuit.

But youth smoking is at an all-time low

Fewer young people than ever are using traditional tobacco products – less than 2.3%. That’s a significant decline since the year 2000, where nearly 15% of minors smoked cigarettes, according to the CDC.

  • This represents a public health victory, and one that has been achieved with sensible education, regulation, and innovation. The same is true for adult smokers. Just 13.7% of adults currently smoke, the lowest number ever recorded.
  • The latest CDC figures show that 20.8 percent of high schoolers have vaped at least once in the last 30 days. But 7 to 8% of those were vaping cannabis rather than nicotine.
  • A total flavor ban on all tobacco products and vaping products for adults would do little to curb use among youth.
  • It may even exacerbate the problem and only punish lawful adult consumers and deprive them of their choice, not to mention devastate the communities that rely on tobacco taxes to fund important social programs.

What’s more, by categorizing non-tobacco vapor products as tobacco products, House members are attacking the very innovation that has led to the lowest-ever figure of recorded tobacco use.

Prohibition Hasn’t Worked

The 100-year anniversary of the passage of Prohibition of alcohol took place last month.

  • All these years later, we know that outlawing certain consumer products does not eradicate their existence. Rather, it moves them from the legal, regulated market to the illicit and unregulated black market.
  • This makes the products themselves less safe, and the trade around those products even more dangerous.

After an entire nation had awoken to the disaster of Prohibition, it was successfully repealed in 1933.

Minorities are more likely to use menthol products

According to the CDC, African-Americans who use tobacco are 90% more likely to favor menthol products and represent the vast majority of consumers in the flavored tobacco market.

  • A ban would create an illicit market without regulations or ID checks
  • Such bans would then force police officers to crack down on illicit menthol cigarette trade, further straining relations between the African-American community
  • As seen in the case of Eric Garner, who was choked out by a police officer and later died in New York City for selling loose cigarettes on the street, bans and restrictions that create illegal markets can lead to devastating consequences.
  • If a law bans menthol and flavored tobacco products, the demand wouldn’t disappear.

Rather, it would be pushed into the unregulated market, siphoning away tobacco taxes and incenting police officers to use their power to enforce laws in minority communities.

Age-restriction by law is a powerful means of dissuading youth use

By penalizing convenience retailers that sell to minors, regulators have already created a significant barrier to youth access.

  • This allows law enforcement to prosecute bad actors and focus their efforts on illicit markets where dealers don’t ask for ID.
  • Recently, Congress’ raising of the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 years old also dissuades youth use, ensuring no high schooler will be able to legally purchase these products.
  • Nearly half of tobacco and vape shops don’t ID young customers.

Enforcing existing laws on youth access, including prosecuting shops that don’t check ID, are a powerful means of keeping youth away from tobacco products.

Bans Deny the Science on Harm Reduction by Vaping and Smokeless Products

For many adult smokers looking to quit, vaping products have been proven key to harm reduction.

  • About 4.4% of adults, nearly 11 million, are now using vaping devices
  • National health bodies around the world, including Public Health England, the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and Health Canada have endorsed vaping as a smoking cessation method.
  • The U.K.’s top health body has repeatedly said that vaping and e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than smoking.
  • Bans that include flavored vaping products would deprive adult smokers of a less harmful method of consuming nicotine

We all have an interest in eliminating the number of young people who take up smoking. But counterintuitive bans would make that goal harder, not easier to achieve.

And depriving adult consumers of harm reducing technologies like flavored vaping products will reserve the decades of public health successes.

Let’s hope our members of Congress consider these facts before they vote on H.R. 2339.

Download the full policy note here.

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