In the realm of feminism, the tampon tax has been a driving issue as of late. Whereas Canada ended the tax in July, other nations have kept it firmly in place despite public protests. In the United Kingdom, protesters initiated the practice of free-bleeding, wherein they forewent sanitary products and wore white trousers, thus allowing their menses to be completely visible. In the United States, the protest has largely come in the form of a Change.org campaign which currently has over 57,000 signatures and is backed by Cosmopolitan magazine.
The tax in question is not a direct tax on tampons, rather it is a sales tax that happens to include tampons, and this inclusion is the issue. What is taxed and what is exempt is a very complex issue of necessity versus luxury, as proven by the fact that baby powder is exempt in some states, while diapers are not. The term “necessity” is thrown about concerning this debate, but subjectivity is also called into question, as Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation says, “It’d be nice if necessities weren’t taxed, but necessity is subjective.”
“Necessary” items like condoms, laxatives, and Motrin go tax-free, while tampons, toilet paper, soap, and toothpaste do not. Many have protested that while all these personal care products should be exempt on a hygiene/health standpoint, tampons and other feminine products are a particular issue because they are only used by the feminine population, and not exactly by choice.
In New York, this protest resulted in the filing of a class-action lawsuit earlier this month by five Manhattan women against the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance. The women see the “tampon tax” as archaic, regressive, and especially burdensome on poor women, who pay the tax more frequently as they can’t afford to buy in bulk. The women wanted New York to follow in the footsteps of Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts, the states that have already lifted the sales tax on tampons and pads.
Just a few days ago, the women got their wish. New York’s Assembly has passed Senate Bill S3848, legislation specifically aimed at exempting feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax. Sponsored by Democrats Suzi Oppenheimer and Linda Rosenthal, the bill states the obvious: “Women have no choice in their need for sanitary napkins and must purchase them. These non-optional items are an important aspect in the health maintenance of women. Such necessary items should be exempt from sales tax.” While the bill still has some hoops to jump through, this approval stands as a foothold for other states eager to pass legislation, including California, where Democrat Garcia and her Republican colleague Chang have proposed an equally straightforward bill.
The fiscal implications, however, cannot be ignored, as Bill S3848 states that state revenue would be reduced by over an estimated $7 million in the law’s first year in effect. This is especially rough when considering the fact that sales tax revenue has nearly been cut in half since the 1970s due to what columnist Josh Barro calls “sympathetic ears in state capitals.” That said, according to Barbara Ross, New York state earns an estimated total of $14 million each year from average women just buying tampons.
In purchasing feminine hygiene products, they face the 4 percent state sales tax, up to a 4.375 percent secondary county tax, and still make less than men on average. Women already have to deal with the social stigma that comes with menstruation, do they have to deal with a suffering bank account as well? Hopefully not for long.
Photo by @ColumbiaMSPH
A New York college student just trying to figure out how to balance a social life, a 10 page paper, and a mild addiction to coffee.