A tampon tax is a popular term used to call attention to the fact that tampons—and other feminine hygiene products—are subject to value-added tax, unlike the tax exemption status granted to other products considered basic necessities. Proponents of tax exemption argue that tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups and comparable products constitute basic, unavoidable necessities for women and thus should be made tax exempt.
Proponents argue that feminine hygiene products serving the basic menstrual cycle should be classified alongside other unavoidable, tax exempt necessities, such as groceries and personal medical items. The BBC estimates that women—half of the global population—need to use feminine hygiene products for about a week each month for about 30 years. While sales tax policy varies across jurisdictions, these products were typically taxed at the same rate as non-essential goods, such as in the United States, while other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland, reduced or eliminated their general consumption tax on sanitary products. When asked about equivalent exemptions for men, proponents argue that no male products, condoms included, are comparable to feminine hygiene products, since menstruation is biological and "feminine hygiene is not a choice". As the vast majority of consumers of feminine hygiene products are women, the increased cost has been criticized as being discriminatory against women. The tampon tax is not a special tax levied directly on feminine hygiene products.
After the tax in Canada was removed mid-2015, women began protesting in other countries later that year. On July 21, 2018, India eliminated the Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 12% from sanitary napkins.
Tax law by jurisdiction
- Kenya was the first country to abolish sales tax for menstrual products, which occurred in 2004.
- Since 1 January 2019 within Australia, after an 18-year campaign the 10 per cent tax on tampons and pads was repealed, after all states and territories agreed to make sanitary products explicitly exempt from the GST.
- Canada removed its tampon tax in mid-2015 following an online petition signed by thousands.
- In Colombia, on 14 November 2018, the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled to strike down a 5 per cent tax on tampons and pads on gender equality grounds.
- India eliminated its 12% tax on feminine hygiene products in 2018. This was after a year of lobbying by advocacy groups and even celebrities. Superstar Akshlay Kumar featured as the lead male actor in Pad Man and raised awareness about the Niine Movement to fight the taboo on menstruation.
- Ireland levies no value-added tax on tampons, panty liners, and sanitary towels. While other European Union countries are barred from creating zero-rated value added, Ireland's exemptions are grandfathered.
- Slovakia levies a 20% tax on sanitary products—the basic goods rate. A Slovakian film director commented that there are no plans to change the law and that east Europe missed elements of feminist change while living under communist government.
The United Kingdom has levied a value-added tax on sanitary products since it joined the European Economic Community in 1973. This rate was reduced to 5% specifically for sanitary products in 2000 with lobbying from Member of Parliament Dawn Primarolo saying that this reduction was "about fairness, and doing what we can to lower the cost of a necessity." This is the lowest rate possible under the European Union's value added tax law, which as of 2015 does not allow zero rates. The UK Independence Party raised the issue in the 2015 general election with promises to withdraw from the European Union and allow the zero rate. Prime Minister David Cameron commented, when prompted, that the tampon tax campaign was "long-standing" and a complicated issue within the European Union. In England, one in ten women between 14 and 21 cannot afford menstrual management products.
Laura Coryton led a "Stop taxing periods, period" campaign with an online petition to have the European Union remove the value-added tax for sanitary products. George Osborne mentioned the petition by name in his 2015 Autumn Statement pledge to end the tampon tax at the European Union level. The petition platform's CEO cited the campaign as an example of successful clicktivism, with over 320,000 signatures. In March 2016, Parliament created legislation to eliminate the tampon VAT. It was expected to go into effect by April 2018 but did not do so; several British women protested for it publicly while displaying blood stains from their periods. On the 3rd October 2018, new EU VAT rules that will allow the UK to stop taxing sanitary products were approved by the European Parliament. However they will not go into effect until January 2022 at the earliest.
In July 2017, a pilot program began in Scotland to have free sanitary products available at schools and food banks for women who cannot afford them. The pilot scheme was launched for six months in Aberdeen, Scotland, with £42,500 of funding from the devolved Scottish Government in order to address the growing scandal of "period poverty". It was believed 1,000 girls would benefit from the scheme, as there were reports of teenage girls using tissues, toilet roll, torn T-shirts and even newspaper as makeshift sanitary products, with some girls even skipping school altogether. It was decided to launch the scheme to improve attainment and school attendance, as well as improve confidence amongst teenage girls during their period; and Scotland is believed to be the first country in the world to give out free sanitary products as part of a government-sponsored initiative.
Further to this half year pilot program, Scotland's opposition Labour Party intends to introduce a bill to make this permanent. Scotland is the first country to ban period poverty.
A study by the WHO and UNICEF showed that one out of five women in Scotland have been forced to improvise with items including toilet paper and old clothes due to the high cost of commercial products.
In the United States, almost all states tax "tangible individual property" but exempt non-luxury "necessities": groceries, prescriptions, prosthetics, agriculture supplies, and sometimes clothes—the exemptions vary between states. Five states do not have a state sales tax (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon), and as of June 2019[update], twelve states specifically exempted essential hygiene products (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and California).
In the U.S., most states charge sales tax for women's pads and tampons. Eleven states have dropped the tampon tax — Minnesota, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and Rhode Island according to NPR, CNN, and the New York Times. California repealed the tax in its 2019 state budget, but only for the two year duration of the budget. Seven other states have introduced such legislation, most recently Nebraska, Virginia, Arizona, and Ohio.
Many federal assistance programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) don’t allow the use of an EBT for products such as pads or tampons despite the products' classification as medical devices. The IRS does not classify female products as medical devices, thus blocking women from buying them with pre-tax dollars in both flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts.
There have been some changes to the tampon taxes, but most of these changes are state level or by city. On a smaller scale, individual cities have also changed their laws in favor of eliminating the tampon tax (e.g. Denver, Colorado).
California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia reported that California women each pay roughly US$7 per month over 40 years, constituting US$20 million in annual taxes. Garcia and Ling Ling Chang proposed a bill to remove the tampon tax in early 2016. At this period, only a handful of the country's states exempted tampons, and several others had no state sales tax. Garcia held that women were taxed "for being women" and bore an economic burden for having no other choice but to buy these products. Garcia and Chang added that the tax was "regulatory discrimination" that disproportionately affected poor women and women of color, and that it likely persisted due to social taboos against discussing menstruation. Both houses of the California State Legislature voted to exempt tampons from taxation in June 2016, but the bill was vetoed by the state's governor, Jerry Brown, three months later.
California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed AB-1561 due to the potential loss of money in taxing feminine hygiene products. In response, Cristina Garcia co-authored AB-0479: Common Cents Tax Reform Act with Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, which is a new measure outlining a solution to offset the feminine product and diaper tax exemption by increasing the tax on hard liquor. This bill was ultimately gutted and amended with provisions on workers' compensation.
In 2017, California State Legislature passed AB 10 (Ch. 687) requiring public middle schools and high schools where at least 40% of students meet the federal poverty level to stock half of the restrooms with free tampons and sanitary napkins. The law was passed in an effort to eliminate the cost burden and keep low-income students in schools during their menstrual cycle.
Companies involved in supplying the necessary feminine hygiene products (tampons and pads) for complete menstrual care in the restrooms of schools include WAXIE and Hospeco. They also supply various options for menstrual product dispensers that have a time delay mechanism to prevent products from being overused and/or abused.
In June 2019, menstrual products were exempted from the sales tax in the state budget, but only for the two-year duration of the budget. The exemption will be revisited in future budgets.
In July 2016, New York State exempted feminine hygiene products from taxation, reducing the state's tax revenue by an estimated US$10 million annually. In the court case of the "Tampon Tax," attorney Zoe Salzman defended the movement of repealing the taxes on feminine menstrual products. Part of the case was also a plea for refunding the women for all of the taxes that they had to pay on feminine menstrual products in the past. Ultimately the case ruled to repeal the taxes on feminine menstrual products, but not to refund the women of New York the previous taxes. Connecticut and Illinois also removed their tax in 2016, with Florida following suit in 2017.
A 2018 empirical study on New Jersey's 2005 tax break on menstrual products found that "repealing tampon taxes removes an unequal tax burden and could make menstrual hygiene products more accessible for low-income consumers." The study utilized data from more than 16,000 purchases in 2004-2006 made in New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, using these latter nearby states as the control group. Through a differences-in-differences approach, they found that after the repeal, consumer prices on menstrual products decreased by 7.3%, relative to the control states. This was greater than the 6.9% sales tax, suggesting that the consumers benefitted from the tax break. Upon further analysis, the study also found that the decrease in consumer prices was greater for low-income consumers than high-income consumers (3.9% decrease versus 12.4% decrease). This suggests that low-income consumers received the most benefit from the tax break, while high-income consumers shared the benefit with producers of menstrual products.
Supporters of the exemption of said taxes are calling their efforts "menstrual equity", explaining it as a social movement that strives for feminine products like tampons to be considered necessities. Things that are considered necessities, for example toilet paper, are not taxed. Activists are often being led by members of government. Councilwomen Julissa Ferreras-Copeland led a movement with a tampon tax pilot project ultimately providing free pads and tampons at a local high school in Queens, New York. Ferreras-Copeland's effort has now been expanded into 25 different schools around New York City. Other democrats including Ydanis Rodriguez and council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are advocating for state legislature to stop taxing sanitary products.
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