Should feminine hygiene products be tax-free?
- Law Insider defines feminine hygiene products as “tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins, and other similar tangible personal property designed for feminine hygiene in connection with the human menstrual cycle, but does not include grooming and hygiene products.”
- The American Medical Women’s Association explains that “period poverty” refers to “the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management.”
- America’s first National Period Day was held on October 19th, 2019, with “60 rallies nationwide calling for the elimination of the ‘archaic’ and ‘unfair’ sales tax on menstrual products.”
- Pew Research reported in 2021 that about $119.7 million in revenue is made annually by the 27 states that apply sales tax to menstrual products.
One need not look further than slang terminology like 'tampon tax' and 'pink tax' to recognize that the discriminatory tax on feminine hygiene products is sexist and targets menstruating people.
The tax labels 'tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins, and other similar tangible personal property designed for feminine hygiene in connection with the human menstrual cycle' as 'luxury' items, disguising them as non-essential, even though they're necessary for the proper self-care of an inescapable biological experience.
For women, feminine hygiene products are not luxurious--they are practical tools needed twelve times a year. And as Rachel and Helen Lee point out, 'toilet paper is not an alternative.' Yet, every viable option for feminine hygiene is taxed, leaving no comparable alternative to which the tax doesn't apply—something that violates well-being and sabotages accessibility to basic self-care.
Notably, states profit from the pink tax. California had 'made up to $33.4 million from menstrual care product sales each year' before abolishing the tax. However, even though states may endure some losses by repealing the tax, they are insignificant compared to the grand total of federal tax revenue. If the loss were significant, 23 states wouldn't keep their tax-free stance, especially the 13 that eliminated it from their existing legislature.
Taxing feminine hygiene products obviously adversely affects women's finances. Consider that '64% of low-income women in the US cannot afford tampons,' and 500 million people live 'without access to adequate menstrual hygiene.' Meanwhile, toilet paper and condoms go untaxed. Forcing women into this humiliating disadvantage is inhumane, especially for women facing 'period poverty.' This is why so many activists campaign and even file lawsuits to terminate the so-called 'tampon tax.'
Feminine hygiene products shouldn't be tax-free because doing so wouldn't necessarily bring any cost-benefit to those who purchase them. A University of Texas study from 2020 found that even when taxes on menstrual products were removed, as in the case of states such as Illinois, prices for these items still increased overall. Additionally, the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation noted that even with countries like the United Kingdom leading the way in feminine hygiene reform, there has been little financial benefit from removing the feminine hygiene products tax for the average-earning user.
What does end up happening is that the cost of eliminating the tampon tax is ultimately passed on to consumers in alternate ways. The Tax Foundation found that consumers end up paying more taxes overall to make up for eliminating the tax on feminine hygiene products. In terms of overall economic feasibility and growth, the foundation concluded that taxes are best applied to all consumer purchases regardless of necessary status because 'Other items that are still included in the sales tax base could be 'necessities' for other individuals. Exempting one item from the sales tax base puts all the remaining items at risk of a higher rate.'
With such terms as 'period poverty' and 'menstrual equity,' the elimination of taxes on feminine hygiene products to create equity is a 'political movement,' as the New York Times points out. However, this movement has done little to lessen the proposed financial burden on those who menstruate.
Eliminating the menstrual products tax does not economically benefit its users or other consumers, and we shouldn't let politics muddy the waters.