Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health has decided to permanently discontinue North American sales of its talc-based baby powder, a product that once defined the company’s wholesome image and that it has defended for decades even as it faced thousands of lawsuits filed by patients who say it caused cancer.

According to the personal care giant, Johnson’s Baby Powder represents approximately 0.5% of the total U.S. Consumer Health business. Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due to changes in consumer habits and the law suits.

“We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the company in the courtroom. All verdicts against the company that have been through the appeals process have been overturned,” read a statement from Johnson & Johnson.

The company will allow existing bottles to be sold by retailers until they ran out. Baby powder made with cornstarch will remain available, and the company will continue to sell talc-based baby powder in other parts of the world.

The New York Times reports that thousands of women who developed ovarian cancer after long-term use of the product blamed the powder and sued the company, while a smaller number sued after developing mesothelioma, a rare and particularly vicious cancer that develops in the linings of the lungs and abdomen and is considered a signature disease of asbestos.

And groups that have advocated the removal of other talc-based cosmetics from the market seized on Johnson & Johnson’s decision to call for more companies to do the same.

In a statement, the Environmental Working Group advocacy organization urged other cosmetic companies to stop using talc in loose powders. The group said that it commissioned tests that last week found asbestos in two eye shadow palettes made with talc, marketed to children and sold on Amazon.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The F.D.A. issued several alerts last year warning that asbestos had been discovered in several talc cosmetics products, including eye shadow sold at Claire’s, a retailer focused on teenagers.

Linda Reinstein, whose husband died of asbestos-induced mesothelioma and who now heads the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, called the company’s move a public health victory but said several chemical companies continued to use asbestos in manufacturing and had blocked an outright ban on it. “We can’t wait for them to follow Johnson & Johnson,” she said.