One of the most hotly contested battles in gender equality isn't being waged in executive boardrooms or the halls of the Capitol, but in your pharmacy's feminine hygiene aisle. During the midterm elections, the voters of Nevada approved an amendment to the state's tax law to eliminate the sales and storage tax on tampons and sanitary napkins (effective Jan.1, 2019), joining nine other states and the District of Columbia, which have also taken action against what advocates say is a financial penalty for being a woman.
Why are tampons taxed in the first place?
While the phrase "tampon tax" makes for an easy-to-understand soundbite, none of the states actually levy a special tax on feminine hygiene products. Most state governments charge a sales tax on consumer goods, exempting products and services that are considered a necessity as opposed to a luxury. What your state regards as necessary for day-to-day life can come as a shock, as Laura Strausfeld, advocate and co-founder of Period Equity, discovered 30 years ago when she looked at the receipt for a box of tampons and tube of chapstick purchased in New York. "The ChapStick wasn't taxed because it had a 'medical use' but the tampons did not, according to New York State regulations," she said.
New York would finally eliminate the tampon tax on feminine hygiene products in 2016, but the logic that would deem a pack of Bubble Yum more worthy of tax exemption than a sanitary product helping half the world's population deal with a basic biological function persists in tax codes across the country. Strausfeld said the debate had evolved over the decades, and takes heart opponents no longer blithely dismiss the issue as frivolous. "People don't dare to say that anymore," she said. "It's not frivolous and it never was—it's simply the result of a lack of representation of women in state legislatures." Instead, people against exempting feminine hygienic products from the sale tax claim the state can't afford to lose the revenue—revenue that Strausfeld points out comes from the pockets of women who have to purchase these products.
Which states have eliminated the tampon tax
The growing chorus of discontent with the current state of affairs hasn't fallen on deaf ears, at least in some state capitals. Ten states (and Washington, D.C.) currently exempt feminine hygiene products from sales taxes.
States That Have Eliminated the Tampon Tax
- New York
- New Jersey
What if you live in a state that still has a tampon tax
If you live somewhere still taxing your hygienic products, you still have some options. Boxed, which delivers just about any consumer good imaginable to your door in bulk, has taken the most explicit corporate stand against the tampon tax with its "Rethink Pink" campaign. The company lowers prices on a range of personal care products—including tampons and pads—in order to help offset both the sales tax and what it considers upcharging by brands on products marketed to women.
It's a feel-good purchase for women wanting to strike a blow against the patriarchy with their wallets, but if cost is a concern, you need to do some digging before you purchase. For one thing, Boxed requires a minimum order of $19.99, and not all of its hygiene products are the cheapest. A 162-count box of Always Dailies Thin Liners costs $7.27 with Boxed, while competitor Jet sells the identical product for $6.97, a 4% difference in price.
But while some women will naturally want to find a way to purchase feminine hygiene products they need at the lowest prices, Strausfeld hopes any workaround they discover doesn't dampen their enthusiasm to change the laws in states that continue to levy a tax on products that are a basic necessity for women. "Find who your state representative is, pick up the phone and tell them you don't like it," she said.