As New York says goodbye to the tampon tax, 9 other states could soon follow
In June, New York lawmakers passed a law repealing the state-wide “tampon tax,” which regarded tampons as a luxury item and taxed them as one. The law went into effect last week, and USA Today notes that eliminating the tax will save consumers about $10 million a year. New York, along with Illinois and, more recently, California and Connecticut, managed to spark the dialogue, and of the remaining places where the item’s still taxed, 9 states are working to repeal the tampon tax.
Prior to New York’s big decision, Minnesota, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania didn’t tax menstrual products. Oregon, Montana, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Alaska don’t have sales taxes at all. Meanwhile, states like Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Washington, and Virginia continue to push legislation to repeal it.
The tampon tax is undeniably discriminatory, rooted in the idea that women can somehow magically choose to have or not have periods, financially punishing them for their biology. In most states, far less necessary products are tax-exempt, like sunscreen, ChapStick, anti-dandruff shampoo, Rogaine, and in some cases Viagra.
Worse yet, for years, periods were regarded as a taboo topic, as if women ought to be ashamed of their bodies’ natural processes. The dialogue around the necessity of repealing the tax, both as a move toward equality and to accommodate low-income individuals, largely went untouched until recently. But since 2015, which NPR rightfully dubbed the “Year of the Period,” the stigma around menstruation no longer controls the discussion.
Earlier this month, California lawmakers passed a measure to put an end to the tax, and earlier this year, Senator Melinda Bush led the ultimately successful crusade against the tampon tax in her state of Illinois, where the tampon tax cost menstruating residents $14.7 million annually. Similarly, Connecticut removed the tampon tax from its budget in June, although quite a ways down the road, as this will only go into effect in July 2018. But progress is progress, and these states have certainly made it farther than those still in the process of fighting it or not even thinking about it.
In July, Tampa resident Carlee Wendell filed a class-action lawsuit aimed to repeal Florida’s tampon tax and refund millions of dollars to customers, calling the tax “discriminatory.” She filed the suit against not only major retailers like CVS, Publix, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart, but also Florida’s Department of Revenue. If successful, this could potentially result in the repeal of the tax on a state level. Frankly, there’s no shortage of evidence whatsoever that the tampon tax is pure, unhinged sexism, and categorizing periods as “luxury” is not only bullshit, but bullshit undoubtedly propagated by men.
But at the same time, would I be shocked if Wendell’s lawsuit were shot down? Not really, since all-male panels presiding on the issue tend to do just that. In Utah back in February, an all-male panel voted against the Hygiene Tax Act, which would have lifted the sales tax from tampons and diapers. Similarly, in Tennessee, a bill which would have dramatically lowered the sales tax on feminine products was voted down by a predominantly male subcommittee.
In Ohio, Representative Greta Johnson is fighting an uphill battle in trying to pass House Bill 272, unsurprisingly faced with push-back from fellow legislators and, of course, Ohio’s staunchly anti-choice, Planned Parenthood-defunding governor, John Kasich.
President Obama couldn’t have summed it up better himself when, in January, he told YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen he had “no idea” why tampons are regarded as a luxury product, but “suspect[ed] it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”
The continued tampon tax appears to be a uniquely American problem. Canada repealed its tax on menstrual products in the summer of 2015. The European Union earlier this year gave its member nations the liberty to repeal the tax, and the United Kingdom did so prior to Brexit. Meanwhile, Kenya has gone the extra mile by putting the equivalent of $3 million U.S. dollars to providing menstrual products for schools in poor communities.
The movement against the tampon tax coincides with similar movements pushing for menstrual products to be regarded as absolute necessities for women and girls, in schools, homeless shelters, and prisons and correctional facilities. Many advocates cite how tampons are hardly a luxury for female students, and all students who menstruate, referencing research indicating how menstruation and access to menstrual products can significantly affect attendance and one’s ability to be productive.
Menstrual products are crucial to allowing women and all who menstruate the ability to lead dignified lives, no matter their age, living situation, or socioeconomic status. It’s past time for state tax codes to acknowledge this.