Now, thanks to a Reuters special report, we know that J&J was lying.
J&J now faces 11,700 lawsuits alleging harm from the product, according to the company's most recent quarterly securities filing.
According to Reuters, the documents also depict successful efforts to influence USA regulators' plans to limit asbestos in cosmetic talc products and scientific research on the health effects of talc.
Reuters-along with attorneys for more than 11,000 plaintiffs now suing Johnson & Johnson, claiming the company's products caused their cancer-examined memos, internal reports, and other confidential documents as well as deposition and trial testimony.
Reuters states that the number includes thousands of women with ovarian cancer.
In response, J&J lambasted the Reuters article as "one-sided, false and inflammatory" in a statement published on its website. "Simply put, the Reuters story is an absurd conspiracy theory, in that it apparently has spanned over 40 years, orchestrated among generations of global regulators, the world's foremost scientists and universities, leading independent labs, and J&J employees themselves", CNBC Now reported Friday.
Shares of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) fell more than 6% on Friday, on track to post their biggest percentage drop in more than a decade, after Reuters reported that the pharmaceutical major knew that its baby powder was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.
"This is true even if - and it does not - Johnson & Johnson's cosmetic talc had ever contained minute, undetectable amounts of asbestos".
The report states that while most internal J&J tests did not find asbestos, the company has always faced limitations that allow trace contaminants to go undetected. A pair of cases in New Jersey and California saw significant awards for mesothelioma patients, and a "watershed" verdict in St. Louis expanded the company's potential liability. The FDA's own examinations also found no asbestos in powder samples in the 1970s, but Reuters says those tests did not use "the most sensitive detection methods". After the verdict, J&J CEO Alex Gorsky addressed the issue, telling analysts on a conference call that the company remains "confident that our products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer".
The Reuters investigation comes in the backdrop of the multiple lawsuits that the company is now facing - where more than 9,000 plaintiffs have alleged that its talc baby powder products contain asbestos and caused ovarian and other cancers.