On October 19th, the U.S. will celebrate National Period Day. Menstrual equity advocates nationwide are hosting rallies in all 50 states to call for the elimination of the “Tampon Tax.” We couldn’t be more excited, but we realize that you may need a cheat sheet for the tampon tax and the state of period equity in 2019. So, what exactly is the tampon tax? Is your state taxing your menstrual products? And if so, what you can do about it?
First up, what is the "Tampon Tax"?
In the U.S., there is no specific tax on tampons or other menstrual products. Instead, the term “Tampon Tax” is used to explain the sales tax which applies to any product that is not considered a "necessity" by each state.
Since 2015, the so-called Year of The Period, we’ve seen a steady flow of headlines as states across the U.S. and countries worldwide vote to axe the tampon tax. However, 35 U.S. states still don’t consider menstrual products “necessities” (and, in some cases, even tax them as “luxury Items").
With these states currently profiting an estimated $150 million annually just from taxing our periods, activists argue that the tampon tax is an unfair and discriminatory economic burden. We couldn’t agree more. Whether you use tampons, pads or a menstrual cup, everyone deserves access to affordable, reliable menstrual products.
But doesn’t everything we buy have sales tax?
Actually, no! Each state chooses which items it will make tax exempt. Many of the same states that tax our period products have allowed tax exemptions on items like private jet parts, condoms, Viagra and chocolate bars. While we won’t be fighting for taxed chocolate (read: craving days), it’s downright perplexing that such items could be tax-free while period products are not. (To learn more about tax-exempt items, check out this helpful interactive visual.)
Has your state axed the tax?
If you live in the following states then YES! These states removed the tampon tax well before 2015:
- New Jersey
And if you buy your period products in these states, you’re in luck! None of them tax their menstrual products because they don’t have state sales tax at all. (Did we mention how complicated sales tax is?!):
- New Hampshire
Speaking up about our experiences with menstruation and telling our governments how to better support us can (and has) led to change! Since 2015, menstrual equity advocacy has led these SIX states to eliminate the tampon tax:
- New York
- Rhode Island
And the tide of change is not slowing down. In 2019, 22 states introduced bills to repeal the tampon tax. The fact that this issue is garnering such attention is something to celebrate! Unfortunately, none of these bills have yet been signed into law, which is why we need to continue to raise awareness and push the conversation.
The tampon tax across the globe
In 2004, Kenya became the first country to repeal its tampon tax, making sure that menstruators around the country could afford the products they need. Since then, a flurry of countries have been hitting the headlines for the same reason, including Canada, Colombia, India, Malaysia and Australia. (FYI: Australians fought an 18 year battle to have menstrual products re-classified as essential items!)
Of course, the fight to axe the tampon tax continues in many countries.
Earlier this year The Tampon Book hit German bookshelves. Yes, you read that right: a book filled with actual tampons. Why? In Germany, menstrual products are still considered “luxury goods” and are taxed at the top rate of 19%. Because books (as well as other “necessities" such as truffles and oil paintings) are taxed at a lower rate of 7%, The Female Company decided to make a statement by selling tampons packaged as a book. Loophole!
In the UK, the removal of the tampon tax has been delayed by Brexit. While menstrual products there have been taxed at five different rates since 1973, they are currently taxed at 5%. If you live in the UK and want to know how much tax you’ve paid over your lifetime, head on over to this clever calculator.
Across the sea from the UK, Ireland has 0% tax on disposable menstrual products, but they still tax reusable menstrual products (like Lena Cup) at 23%. While it is referred to as the tampon tax campaign, this fight is about making sure that menstruators never pay tax on any of their menstrual products, whether they choose a tampon or a reusable menstrual cup.
And we also have to keep a watchful eye, even after it seems a battle has been won. Earlier this year the tampon tax was reintroduced in Tanzania, only one year after it had been eliminated.
What can YOU do?
Want a tax-free period? Here are four easy actions you can take this week:
1. Sign PERIOD's National Petition to eliminate the tampon tax.
2. Attend a National Period Day Rally. (There will be one taking place in every state!)
3. Keep pressuring your state to remove the tampon tax. Don’t know who your state governor is? Check out this handy resource to track down their phone number and email address.
4. Speak openly about periods in your daily life.
- Tweet about your period and the importance of menstrual equity (like these heroes in the U.S. and Ireland).
- Post on your stories about your state’s tampon tax status.
- Share this list of National Period Day Rallies on Facebook.
- Talk to your colleagues and friends about the tampon tax and find out what they do and don't know about it.
Menstrual equity advocate and California assembly member Cristina Garcia has said this: "Basically we are being taxed for being women... it's not like you can just ignore the constant flow... Feminine hygiene is not a choice and should not be taxed." Whether your flow goes into a cup or a tampon, let’s make sure it's tax free.
We can’t wait to hear what you get up to on National Period Day.
Note: In light of the issues (revealed in June of 2020) concerning the practices of Period. and its founder Nadya Okamoto, we have amended this blog to eliminate the suggestion that the National Period Day rallies were the first events of their kind.