By Kayla Robbins
Although many states have sales tax exemptions on “necessities” that can range from groceries to medical care products, tampons and other feminine care products are overwhelmingly not exempt in the U.S.
In 40 out of 50 states, tampons and other menstrual supplies are subject to sales tax, in some cases adding to upwards of 9 percent. Women in California pay an average of $7 on these supplies per month, every month, for 30 to 40 years. After a lifetime, that trivial percentage can really add up, and it garners the state of California more than $20 million in tax revenue each year.
At this point, you may be wondering what the problem is. Sure, taxes may be a little annoying, but they’re not likely to make or break anyone’s budget. Sales tax is just a part of life. No matter what you buy, a portion goes to Uncle Sam, right?
Well, not exactly. You see, many states have special tax breaks in place that allow certain products to be purchased tax-free. California, the state making a tidy profit off of its tampon tax, has provisions in place that make certain medical goods like walkers, ID tags, bandages, and even Viagra completely free of sales tax. Most states shelter items like prescription medicine, groceries, and many even have laws on the books to make a variety of toiletries exempt from sales tax. In light of all of this information, you have to wonder, if all these things are considered necessary, how is it that tampons aren’t?
The prevalence and unavoidability of their use can not be reasonably denied (although one commenter on this delightful article passionately suggests that women who can’t afford tampons or pads instead use cheap “fabrics” like their ancestors did for hundreds of years. Really? This Paleo thing has finally gone too far). More than half of the world’s population needs to use them one week out of every month for a huge chunk of their lifetime. How could something this glaringly obvious be overlooked as a necessity when state tax codes were being formed? Maybe the fact that the vast majority of politics is dominated by men has something to do with this serious oversight.
Unfortunately, even when attention has been brought to the issue, lawmakers remain reluctant to make changes. They talk about waning treasuries and the vast complications of the tax code, but when the tax law of a state is codified in such a way that certain products are considered “essentials” and exempted from tax, while feminine hygiene products are not included on that list, the implicit message about how little they care about women and “their issues” is pretty clear. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I expect an elected official actively participating in my governance to be able to puzzle out a bit of tricky tax code without acting like he’s diffusing a live bomb or something. These excuses are paper thin.
The fact is, there is not a single men’s-only necessity item for sale that is subject to sales tax. Not one. This simple realization is enough to take this from a simple tax on tampons to a more sinister tax on women. It is also eye-opening to consider that state government buildings all over the country are dominated by men who have voted not to eliminate a tax that they would never have to pay themselves. During a meeting on the subject in the UK, most of the men present couldn’t even bring themselves to SAY the word “tampon.”
It’s time to end the tax on tampons and on the women who are unfairly affected by it, once and for all. We’re not settling for politicians’ canned excuses any longer. When they say it’s too complex or it can’t be done, we hear what they really mean: “I don’t care enough to try.”
The precedent is already there. Most states recognize that it is better for everyone if certain goods are not taxed. These essentials already include groceries and medical devices, so including tampons and other feminine hygiene products is a natural step forward. Anyone who’s ever had to use them knows that they’re certainly not a “luxury item” as some lawmakers would have us believe. Tampons and other feminine hygiene products are every bit as necessary as the other essential items exempted from state sales tax, and even more so than many. It’s time that necessity status was reflected in the tax code.