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Johnson & Johnson reaches $700 million talc settlement with US states

A Johnson & Johnson banner is displayed on the front of the NYSE in New York

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay $700 million to settle an investigation by 42 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. into its marketing of baby powder and other talc-based products blamed for allegedly causing cancer.

The settlement resolves charges that Johnson & Johnson misled consumers into believing its talc products, which it sold for more than a century before stopping, were safe.

J&J did not admit wrongdoing in settling with the states, which were led by Florida, North Carolina and Texas, and has said its talc products are safe and do not cause cancer. The company announced a settlement in principle in January.

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"This is a major advancement for consumer product safety," Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement.

J&J still faces tens of thousands of talc lawsuits, and a class action accusing the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company of fraudulently hiding their dangers from shareholders.

As of March 31, about 61,490 people were still suing J&J over talc. Most were women with ovarian cancer, while a smaller number had mesothelioma, a type of cancer linked to asbestos.

J&J stopped selling talc-based baby powder globally last year, switching to corn starch as the main ingredient. It has maintained that its products do not contain asbestos.

The company has twice tried to resolve the litigation by placing into bankruptcy a subsidiary it created to contain its talc liabilities, but courts rebuffed both attempts.

On May 1, J&J proposed a $6.48 billion settlement to resolve most of the litigation through a third bankruptcy filing. It has set aside an $11 billion reserve to cover all talc liabilities.

"The company continues to pursue several paths to achieve a comprehensive and final resolution of the talc litigation," Erik Haas, J&J worldwide vice president of litigation, said in a statement on Tuesday.

"We will continue to address the claims of those who do not want to participate in our contemplated consensual bankruptcy resolution through litigation or settlement," he added.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)