"And while talc products contributed just $420 million to J&J's $76.5 billion in revenue previous year, Baby Powder is considered an essential facet of the healthcare-products maker's carefully tended image as a caring company-a 'sacred cow, ' as one 2003 internal email put it".
On Friday, as news of the investigation spread, Shares of Johnson & Johnson fell by more than six per cent, on track to post their biggest percentage drop in more than a decade.
A Reuters examination of many of those documents shows that the earliest mentions of tainted Johnson & Johnson talc came in 1957 and 1958 in a lab report.It also found that from 1971 to the early 2000s, the company's raw talc and finished powders sometimes but not always tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.
The company has been grappling with lawsuits alleging some of its talcum powder products caused cancer.
In July, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay more than A$6.5 billion in damages to a group of 22 women claiming to have developed ovarian cancer following the use of the powder. The company's executives discussed the problem without disclosing it to regulators or the public, according to the report. Thousands more cases against the company are still pending.
Reuters' report also showed the company had commissioned and paid for studies conducted on its Baby Powder franchise and hired a ghost writer to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal.
"Simply put, the Reuters story is an absurd conspiracy theory", the company said in a statement.
However, the Reuters report indicated that most testing reports did not find the presence of asbestos in J&J products.
Earlier this year, courts in New Jersey and California awarded damages to plaintiffs who claimed Johnson & Johnson talc products caused their mesothelioma.
"This is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer", Ernie Knewitz, J&J's vice president of global media relations, wrote in an emailed response to the report. He said there have been a number of trials where plaintiffs showed evidence suggesting the company knew and concealed the risks. As CNN noted, Friday was the company's worst day on the stock market since 2002. The company promised to appeal that decision, saying in a public statement that their product is safe, blaming the court ruling on juror confusion, "junk" science, unfair court rules and overzealous lawyers looking for a fresh pool of asbestos plaintiffs.