Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has announced it will stop selling talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada.

Sales had already been hit by changing consumer habits and fears the product causes cancer.

The company has long denied claims that the talc powder it uses contains cancer-causing asbestos, but has nonetheless been taken to court several thousands of times over the allegations.

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said it remained "steadfastly confident" in the product's safety and would "vigorously" defend against the lawsuits, noting that all guilty verdicts passed against the company have been overturned.

"As part of a portfolio assessment related to Covid-19, in March, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health stopped shipping hundreds of items in the US and Canada to prioritise high-demand products and to allow for appropriate social distancing in manufacturing and distribution facilities," the company said.

It then decided to discontinue around 100 products in the two countries, including the talc-based powder.

"Demand for talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fuelled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising," the company said.

Existing stocks of the powder will be sold in the US and Canada until they run out, the company said, and the product will remain for sale in countries where there is "significantly higher consumer demand".

The company said it would continue to sell the baby powder in other markets, including Ireland, where they say "there is significantly higher consumer demand for the product".

In a separate statement the company said the same ingredients that are used in the product in the US and Canada are used in the product that is sold in Ireland.