The “tampon tax”: Should states tax feminine hygiene products?

 
Feminine hygiene products on the shelves of a store
(Wikimedia Commons/Stilfehler)
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In late 2017 and early 2018, legislators in multiple states filed bills to eliminate taxes on feminine hygiene products. They are following the lead of several other states that have banished the so-called “tampon tax” in recent years. While state governments do not designate a special tax for feminine hygiene items such as tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups, most do charge sales tax on them, according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking journalism organization.

The cost of feminine hygiene products has been in the news a lot lately as lawmakers and others debate whether Americans should pay taxes on something half the population considers a basic need and the federal government considers a medical device. In some parts of the country, policymakers also are debating whether such items should be provided free of charge in certain locations – school restrooms and women’s prisons, for example. An Illinois law that took effect Jan. 1, 2018 requires public schools serving grades 6 through 12 to provide tampons and sanitary napkins in their bathrooms at no cost.

Florida is the latest state to make menstrual products tax exempt. Although the California legislature passed a bill in 2016 to remove these items from the state’s sales tax base, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. At the time, Brown said he was vetoing seven bills that either created or expanded tax breaks, which, combined, would have cost his state hundreds of millions of dollars.

This policy issue is one that journalists on local and state beats are sure to be covering for years to come. Below, we’ve compiled a list of databases and other resources to help reporters learn more about sales taxes and feminine hygiene products. We also present a sampling of academic papers and government reports that offer additional insights in areas such as how menstrual taboo influences policy debates and whether a lack of feminine hygiene products really hurts girls’ school attendance.

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Resources

  • The Tax Foundation provides a variety of data and reports on sales taxes, including a state-by-state comparison. Five states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon — do not have statewide sales taxes.
  • PolitiFact created several maps showing which states charged sales tax on feminine hygiene items as well as Viagra and Rogaine in 2017. Most states tax pads and tampons as well as Rogaine but do not tax Viagra and other prescription medications.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) supports legislation to remove sales taxes on feminine hygiene products. AMA President David O. Barbe has spoken out on the issue.
  • In August 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo to federal prisons, requiring them to offer a range of free feminine hygiene products to female inmates.
  • Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, writes frequently about gender and politics. She wrote the book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, released in late 2017.
  • The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote this 2016 editorial opposing exempting tampons and baby diapers from sales taxes.

 

Evidence from one state

“Who Would Benefit from Repealing Tampon Taxes? Empirical Evidence from New Jersey”
Cotropia, Christopher Anthony; Rozema, Kyle. Working paper from the University of Richmond School of Law and University of Chicago Law School, 2017. SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2999970.

Conclusion: “New Jersey’s experience with repealing the tampon tax empirically confirmed two points made by tampon tax repeal advocates. First, women consumers do bear the burden of tampon taxes. The data shows that all purchasers bear at least some of the burden of the tax. Second, the tampon tax burden is greater on women with low incomes and without a college degree. This means that tampon tax repeal is likely to benefit women who most need relief when purchasing MH [menstrual hygiene] products. The repeal of the tampon tax even facilitated some New Jersey women to upgrade the quality of MH product they used.”

 

State revenue loss estimates

“Assembly Bill 9: Legislative Bill Analysis”
Report from the California State Board of Equalization, 2017.

Summary: According to this bill analysis, the state of California would lose an estimated $21.7 million in 2018-19 if it exempts feminine hygiene products from its sales and use tax.

 

“Fiscal Note & Local Impact Statement”
Ridzwan, Ruhaiza. Report from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, October 2017.

Summary: This legislative analysis finds that Ohio would lose $3.2 million to $4 million a year in state revenue if it exempts feminine hygiene products from its sales and use tax. Local governments would lose $800,000 to $1 million annually.

 

“The Florida Senate Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement”
Report of the Committee on Appropriations, 2017.

Summary: A bill that exempts the sale of feminine hygiene products from Florida’s sales and use tax “reduces General Revenue receipts by $3.8 million in Fiscal Year 2017-2018 and by $8.9 million on a recurring basis. It reduces local revenue by $1.0 million in Fiscal Year 2017-2018 and by $2.3 million on a recurring basis. The Department of Revenue is expected to incur additional costs of approximately $90,000 to notify sales tax dealers of this new exemption.”

 

“Final Fiscal Note”
Report from the Colorado Legislative Council, May 2017.

Summary: According to this legislative analysis, a bill that would eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene items in Colorado is “expected to reduce General Fund sales and use tax revenue by $1.2 million in FY 2017-18 and $2.4 million in FY 2018-19, and by similar amounts in subsequent years.” The bill has been postponed indefinitely.

 

How menstrual taboo influences policy debate

“The ‘Tampon Tax’: Public Discourse of Policies Concerning Menstrual Taboo”
Hunter, Lea. Hinckley Journal of Politics, July 2016. ISSN: 2163-0798.

Abstract: “The ‘tampon tax’ is a policy in which feminine hygiene products are taxed as ‘luxury goods’ despite the fact that many countries exempt ‘necessary goods — such as basic groceries and medical products — from sales tax. In the summer of 2015, the Canadian parliament took steps to exempt feminine hygiene products. Academic literature supports the idea that menstrual taboo, which stigmatizes open discussion of menstruation, has contributed to the global pervasiveness of gendered taxation policies like the tampon tax. This study examines arguments for and against the tampon tax as well as how menstrual taboo plays into the public discourse in formal (e.g., parliamentary debate and news reporting) and informal (e.g. Twitter) platforms through content analysis.”

 

Lack of hygiene products: Impacts on school attendance, health

“Menstruation, Sanitary Products, and School Attendance: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation”
Oster, Emily; Thornton, Rebecca. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2011. DOI: 10.1257/app.3.1.91.

Abstract: “Policy-makers have cited menstruation and lack of sanitary products as barriers to girls’ schooling. We evaluate these claims using a randomized evaluation of sanitary products provision to girls in Nepal. We report two findings. First, menstruation has a very small impact on school attendance. We estimate that girls miss a total of 0.4 days in a 180-day school year. Second, improved sanitary technology has no effect on reducing this (small) gap. Girls who randomly received sanitary products were no less likely to miss school during their period. We can reject (at the 1 percent level) the claim that better menstruation products close the attendance gap.”

 

“Menstrual Cups and Sanitary Pads to Reduce School Attrition, and Sexually Transmitted and Reproductive Tract Infections: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Feasibility Study in Rural Western Kenya”
Phillips-Howard, Penelope A.; et al. BMJ Open, 2016. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013229.

Summary: Researchers looked at how providing girls in rural Kenya with feminine hygiene products affected their health and school attendance. They found that giving girls these items did not reduce their risk of dropping out of school. However, girls who received pads and menstrual cups were less likely to have sexually transmitted infections.

 

“Menstruation and School Absenteeism: Evidence from Rural Malawi”
Grant, Monica; Lloyd, Cynthia; Mensch, Barbara. Comparative Education Review, May 2013. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/669121.

Abstract: “The provision of toilets and menstrual supplies appears to be a promising strategy to promote adolescent girls’ school attendance and performance in less developed countries. In this article, we use the first round of the Malawi Schooling and Adolescent Survey (MSAS) to examine the individual- and school-level factors associated with menstruation-related school absenteeism. Although one-third of female students reported missing at least 1 day of school during their previous menstrual period, our data suggest that menstruation accounts only for a small proportion of all female absenteeism and does not create a gender gap in absenteeism. We find no evidence for school-level variance in menstruation-related absenteeism, suggesting that absenteeism due to menstruation is not sensitive to school environments. Rather, co-residence with a grandmother and spending time on schoolwork at home are associated with lower odds of absence during the last menstrual period.”

 

Want more research on taxes? Check out our other posts on soda taxes, gas taxes and cigarette taxes.

 

Photo by Stilfehler obtained from Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons license.

Last updated: January 17, 2018

 

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