By Lara McCormick, Honeycomb Contributor
Let’s be honest. There isn’t a lot of positive news about reproductive health policy lately and the general outlook is pretty bleak. But there has been some good legislative news to celebrate! This year states have been pushing to get rid of tampon taxes and just last month, Iowa and Colorado joined Nebraska as the second and third states this year to eliminate the tax. There are now a total of 26 states (and the District of Columbia) that do not impose a state tax on menstrual products.
You might have heard of the tampon tax (also known as a pink tax) before, but what is it? The tampon tax can be any government-imposed tax on menstrual products such as tampons, pads, menstrual cups, etc. Under a state tax code, these items are sometimes considered “luxury goods” and are subjected to a sales tax. There are common exemptions to sales tax such as groceries and other medical supplies. Advocates trying to eliminate this tax often say that the tax is unfair because it specifically targets people who menstruate and those people are forced to buy these products at a higher price due to the tax.
Because sales tax levels differ from state to state, the amount spent on tampon taxes each year varies. At higher levels, the tax can add as much as 10% to the cost of menstrual products. Other sources estimate the average menstruating person in 2021 will spend approximately $100 to $225 on tampon taxes in their lifetime. That’s just one person. When combined together, menstruating people spend about $150 million on tampon taxes each year (as of 2019).
Because everyone has to pay a sales tax at the same percentage rate, it is considered a regressive tax. Regressive taxes tend to be more harmful to low-income people because they pay similar amounts of tax as wealthy people do and the tax becomes more of a burden. This is different from a progressive tax that would tax different income brackets at different rates (commonly used for income tax). One major argument for eliminating the sales tax on menstrual products or making them tax-exempt is that it places a larger burden on low-income people. Popular arguments also include the fact that for many menstruating people, menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury.
States have been hesitant to eliminate the tampon tax because it brings in revenue for states to use to fund social programs and build infrastructure. New York, for example, estimated it lost around $14 million per year due to removing the tax.
Despite concerns surrounding the loss of revenue, Nebraska, Colorado, and Iowa all repealed their tampon tax this year. In April, Nebraska enacted a tax exemption for feminine hygiene products, and this past month. Colorado and Iowa exempted period/menstrual products and diapers from their state sales tax in June. These legislative actions are a great step towards equitable policy regarding menstruation and sexual health!
Advocates and citizens are on the front lines of fighting the tampon tax and legislative wins cannot happen from lawmakers alone. Here’s what you can do if your state still implements a tampon tax and you want to help:
Join a local organization that is committed to ending inequitable menstruation policies. Checking out The Alliance for Period Supplies’ website is a great place to see what is already going on in your community.
Call your state representative. Most sexual health policies such as a tampon tax come from state legislatures so give your representative a call and let them know what you think.