Johnson & Johnson Co., the maker of Tylenol, announced yesterday that Tylenol capsules will be immediately reintroduced into the market in a new triple-sealed package, and the company will replace any bottle thrown out by customers after the seven cyanide deaths in Chicago.
In a move to try to regain its leading position among over-the-counter pain relievers, Johnson & Johnson became the first company to reenter the market with the package protection required by the new Food and Drug Administration rule approved last week.
James E. Burke, chairman of Johnson & Johnson, said salesmen are already selling the newly packaged product, which he said has three separate seals against tampering: glued down box tops, a plastic neck around the cap of the bottle, and a tough foil seal under the cap.
The recall and destruction of some 31 million bottles of Tylenol that has occurred so far, plus the replacement of bottles, will cost over $100 million, Burke said. None of this cost, or the cost of putting the new package on Tylenol, will be passed on to the customer, Burke said.
"I think it is a cost we should absorb, but as a matter of fact I don't think the consumer would pay for it," he said.
Except for a brief television campaign in late October asking the public to "trust" Tylenol, all ads for the product were withdrawn after the deaths, which are still under investigation. Burke said that apart from the ads offering coupons to replace thrown-away Tylenol, no other advertising is now scheduled.
"We consider it a moral imperative as well as good business to restore Tylenol to its preeminent position in the marketplace," Burke told a news conference yesterday.
He urged the American public to "demonstrate a united determination not to allow our lives to be ruled by acts of terrorism, not to allow America to be poisoned the way these seven people were poisoned."
In answer to a question about making a "moral decision" to absorb the cost of the tragedy and the repackaging, Burke said, "Everything we have done, we did because it was good business."
Burke said it would be difficult to regain the full 37 percent share of the market Tylenol had before the tragedy. In four cities where Tylenol had a 46 percent share of the over-the-counter analgesic market, he said, the share dropped to 6.5 percent in only a few weeks. But now, it has recovered to 18 percent and is still rising.
He also said that after the first week of the tragedy, 40 percent of regular Tylenol users said they would continue to buy the product. Five weeks later, that willingness had risen to 59 percent. And if tamper-resistant packaging were added, some 77 percent of the regular Tylenol customers said they might return to buying the product.
He said that polls commissioned by the company showed that 90 percent of the people questioned do not hold the manufacturer responsible for the deaths in Chicago.
After the Chicago poisonings, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, McNeil Consumer Products, recalled nationally two batches of Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules, and finally stopped production of the capsules.
Some 8 million capsules were tested for cyanide. Eight tainted bottles, with 75 contaminated capsules, were found, all in Chicago. Hundreds of millions of returned capsules were incinerated by McNeil beginning this week.
Tylenol capsules will reappear on shelves in the new tamper-resistant package within the next few weeks in many areas, and be distributed to 70 percent of the nationwide market by the first of the year, Burke said.