Back then the issue was that people were taking too much of it. Now the company has had to recall a lot of Tylenol, and related products, because wooden pallets used for packaging materials contained a chemical that broke down into 2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA).
TBA is a well known hazard in the wine industry. It can turn even good wine musty, or "off." Yet wine-makers have to maintain humid cellars for the wine to age properly. You want to sell no wine before its time, but if TBA gets into your cellar it's too late.
TBA is also a hazard in the packaged foods business. There's a fungus that can turn a well-known fungicide into nasty-smelling TBA. Put grapes in plastic pouches and they can be ruined within a week, just from being near tainted fiberboard.
It has produced a Web site, McNeilproductrecall, listing lots of six different products that may be affected, issuing a soothing press release saying they're getting to the bottom of the pallet issue and recalling anything that may be suspected of taint.
Your nose will know if your medicine has a problem. Consumers have reported a "moldy, musty or mildew-like odor" since December.
A writer at Gather.com asks if this is becoming an annual problem. Tylenol recalled some liquid products last year, it was mixed with narcotics in products like Vicodin, and the FDA last year lower dosages.
The Gather.com comment, however, gets to the real heart of the problem. Fool me once, shame on you and fool me twice, shame on me. What about fool me four or five times?
At the heart of J&J's success in 1982 was that it took responsibility quickly, not for something it did but for something a third party did, and that it immediately took expensive steps not only to get its product off the shelves (it had a 37% share of the pain reliever market) but to keep it from happening again.
In this case, there's no doubt the company is responsible. This is also involving more products than just Tylenol, which could add a taint to the company's reputation for some time.
This will cost J&J more money than the 1982 scare, and result in damage that is harder to fix.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com