Every month we get our periods. But it wasn’t until recently that many took notice of the financial burden biology and state governments have put on women. On average, women spend $7 per month on feminine hygiene products, such as sanitary napkins and tampons.1 Depending on which state you live in, you may also be paying sales tax on these products—a cost now infamously known as the tampon tax. And if you’re a woman who suffers from symptomatic uterine fibroids, chances are you’re bleeding and paying a heck of a lot more.
Uterine fibroids are a common noncancerous tumor that grows in the wall of the uterus. Fibroids are so widespread that studies show approximately three out of four women will develop fibroids by age 50.2 And although not all women will experience symptoms, as many as half will seek treatment to control extreme menstrual bleeding.3
To understand what has been labeled the so-called tampon tax, let’s first clarify that feminine hygiene products don’t have their own individual tax but may be subject to sales tax. Almost every state charges sales tax on items considered “tangible personal property.”4 Sales tax rates vary from state to state with the following states charging the highest combined state and local sales tax: Louisiana (9.98%), Tennessee (9.46%), Arkansas (9.30%), Alabama (9.01%), and Washington (8.92%).5
Over the years, states have classified certain items as necessities, such as groceries and prescription drugs, thereby making them sales tax exempt.6 What ends up being taxed differs from state to state—including feminine hygiene products.
Even though roughly 50% of the female population is of reproductive age, and most of them are menstruating every month, only a handful of state governments consider pads and tampons a necessity:7
Those against the tampon tax argue that feminine hygiene products are a necessity not a luxury, and women face gender inequality when purchasing these items. For women who bleed excessively, the financial burden may be even more severe. Women with fibroid-related heavy periods spoke out about what menstruation was like for them:
“My periods ran from 7-14 days.” – Gwen
“I bled for one month straight. I’m a nurse. At my facility our uniform is white scrubs. Every month, you can imagine, it was like a nightmare. I had to wear a super absorbency tampon, two ultra absorbency maxi-pads, an adult diaper, and Spanks to hold it all together.” – Carmen
“The uncertainty, the continual bleeding. It was just overwhelming.” – Sharon
“We’d have to get up [at night] and change the sheets.”
Some states, such as Maryland and Massachusetts, consider feminine hygiene items medical products and don’t apply sales tax.6 Although women with medical conditions like fibroids may experience abnormal menstrual bleeding, the truth is—fibroids or no fibroids—many women of reproductive age bleed every month and need feminine hygiene products.
But to some, whether or not feminine hygiene products are considered a necessity shouldn’t matter. According to the Tax Foundation, the nation’s leading independent tax policy nonprofit, making feminine hygiene products tax exempt goes against tax policy and is a political move—not an economical one.6
Ideally, sales tax should apply to all final consumer purchases at a consistent rate regardless if an item is a necessity or a luxury, the Tax Foundation noted in a blog earlier this year.6 They explained that this would allow for the lowest possible tax rate, and exempting one item from sales tax, such as feminine hygiene products, puts all other items at risk of shifting to a higher tax rate. For example, lawmakers in California have proposed doing away with tax on feminine hygiene products and making up for the budget decrease by raising sales tax on hard alcohol.8
“Liquor is a choice and a luxury, and human biology is not,” California State Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia said in a statement earlier this year. “There is no happy hour for menstruation. Our tax code needs to reflect the fact that it’s not ok to tax women for being born women.”8
Would slashing the tampon tax actually save women money?
New York state government officials estimated that by exempting feminine hygiene products, women would save about $10 million annually.9 On the other hand, this would also mean a $10 million loss in state revenue. Although this makes up only a small portion of state and local revenue, critics believe it’s part of a trend that continually reduces the state’s sales tax base, potentially leading to large losses of revenue over time.6
Whether you agree with the tampon tax or not, one argument can’t be denied:
Sales tax on feminine hygiene products is just another way life becomes more expensive for women.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Freelance Writer and Editor, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad, and volunteering in her community. She is a paid consultant of Merit Medical.
- Larimer, S. (2016, Jan 8). The ‘tampon tax’ explained. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/08/the-tampon-tax-explained/?utm_term=.6e4298c2a6e0
- Baird, D. D., Dunson, D. B., Hill, M. C., et al. (2003). High cumulative incidence of uterine leiomyoma in black and white women: Ultrasound evidence.Am J Obstet Gynecol, Jan; 188(1), 100–107.
- Soliman, A. M., Yang, H., Du, E. X., Kelkar, S. S., & Winkel, C. (2015). The direct and indirect costs of uterine fibroid tumors: a systematic review of the literature between 2000 and 2013. Am J Obstet Gynecol, Aug; 213(2): 141-160.
- Murray, J. (2017, Mar 3). What Products and Services are Subject to Sales Tax? Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/what-products-and-services-are-subject-to-sales-tax-398764
- Walczak, J., & Drenkard, S. (2017). State and Local Sales Tax Rates in 2017. Retrieved from https://taxfoundation.org/state-and-local-sales-tax-rates-in-2017/
- Kaeding, N. (2017). Tampon Taxes: Do Feminine Hygiene Products Deserve a Sales Tax Exemption? Retrieved from https://taxfoundation.org/tampon-taxes-sales-tax/
- Kaiser, S. (n.d.). Menstrual Hygiene Management. Retrieved from http://www.sswm.info/content/menstrual-hygiene-management
- Calfas, J. (2017, Mar 15). Most States Charge a Tax on Tampons. This Lawmaker Has a Brilliant Solution. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/4701623/california-tampon-tax/
- New York State. (2016, Jul 21). Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Exempt Sales and Use Taxes on Feminine Hygiene Products. Retrieved from https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-legislation-exempt-sales-and-use-taxes-feminine-hygiene-products