What Is the Tampon Tax?

Tampon tax is a term used for the tax imposed on menstrual hygiene products by a government. These products are not subject to a unique or special tax but are classified as luxury items along with other goods that are not exempted.

Tampon tax is often viewed as a part of the unofficial, and biased, "pink tax," which according to studies makes products costlier for those who menstruate.

Key Takeaways

  • Tampon tax is slang for a sales tax that some U.S. states and nations impose on feminine hygiene products.
  • Some consider this tax to be biased toward women, imposing an additional cost that men do not typically pay.
  • In recent years, such taxes have been subject to repeal; however, many politicians still support them as a source of needed revenue.

Understanding the Tampons Tax

The primary argument in support of tampon tax is revenue collection. Critics of this tax argue that menstrual hygiene products are necessities and taxing them is unconstitutional and a form of discrimination. Further, critics claim that exempting these goods by categorizing them as medical equipment or supplies would greatly benefit low-income groups.

As of 2021, 30 state governments in the U.S. levy sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, such as pads and tampons.

Kenya was the first country to abolish a tampon tax in 2004. Other countries that don't tax these goods as luxury items include Australia, Uganda, Canada, India, Nicaragua, Malaysia, and Lebanon. The U.K. tax rate went to zero as of Jan. 1, 2021.

Revenue or Repeal

The California government led by Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a tampon tax relief bill that passed both houses of the state legislature in 2016. The legislature feared that tampon tax relief would mean a drop in public revenue. However, on Jan. 1, 2020, the state halted taxes on hygiene products for two years. The government estimated that cutting the diaper and tampon tax would eliminate about $55 million in revenue from the more than $200 billion budget.

In New York State, where the tax is no longer imposed, the loss in revenue was estimated to be $14 million a year, according to a lawsuit filed in 2016. The Tax Foundation's Nicole Kaeding argued that removing taxes on these products puts other items at risk of higher rates, and different products can be regarded as necessities by different groups.

However, those against the tax say it is a tax on those who menstruate and budgets shouldn't be "balanced on women's backs," as California State Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia put it. A University of Richmond study also found that while the tax break is fully shifted to consumers, it is not distributed equally.

"Low-income consumers enjoy a benefit from the repeal of the tax by more than the size of the repealed tax. For high-income consumers, the tax break is shared equally with producers. The results suggest that repealing tampon taxes removes an unequal tax burden and could make menstrual hygiene products more accessible for low-income consumers," stated a paper published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies in 2018.

Oct. 19, 2019, was the first National Period Day in the United States with 60 rallies nationwide calling for the elimination of the "archaic" and "unfair" sales tax on menstrual products. It was launched by a non-profit organization called Period. U.S. politicians, including Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, Beto O'Rourke, and Cory Booker used the hashtag #NationalPeriodDay online to express their support for menstrual equity.

A bill introduced to Congress in March 2019 by Rep. Grace Meng called the Menstrual Equity For All Act of 2019 aims to make these products more accessible to all people who menstruate.