An expert witness told a MOi jury in three ovarian cancer patients’ talc trial against Johnson & Johnson that the company worked to combat declining talc sales in the mid-2000s with strategies to target overweight women.
Dr. Laura Plunkett, a pharmacologist, appeared as an expert witness in the trial for three women who developed ovarian cancer, allegedly from J&J’s talcum powder. The plaintiffs are Debra Marino, who died of ovarian cancer in 2015; Susan Vogeler; and Victoria Giese.
Plunkett shared a marketing plan from July 2004 in which personnel discussed how to get talcum powder sales up.
At that time, “there was scientific information that was already available showing that talc posed a hazard, particularly when it’s being used by women in the perineal area,” Plunkett said.
The marketing document shows “that they’re targeting overweight women,” she said. “The issue of sweating and the issue of personal hygiene” made it a good marketing strategy that could extend into collaborations with other companies where overweight consumers could be found.
“They were tying in their sales and their marketing to Weight Watchers, where overweight women may have been looking at that kind of literature,” Plunkett said.
Plunkett also shared marketing documents from 2008 and 2010. The former discussed the idea of delivering 100,000 powder samples to customers of Lane Bryant, a plus-size clothing store for women, in their orders. The latter floated placements in Weight Watchers Magazine and Everyday with Rachael Ray.
Plunkett also noted that since talc is a cosmetic, it escapes the scrutiny of risk-benefit analysis it would receive if it were a drug. Talc has no benefit to counterbalance the risks it poses.
Marino, a former surgical technician, was diagnosed in 2009 at age 45, and died in 2015 after six years of treatment.
Vogeler, who comes from a law enforcement family, was diagnosed in 2009 at age 51 and endured a dozen rounds of chemotherapy. She is currently in remission.
Giese, diagnosed in 2013 at age 44, has had two recurrences and is in treatment for the second one.
All three had surgery to remove their uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
It’s the first multi plaintiff Missouri talc trial since the U.S. Supreme Court refused this year to review the practice of multi plaintiff trials.