Why periods should be tax-free

The “tampon tax” — the shorthand phrase for the sales tax applied to menstrual products — is a key issue in the fight for menstrual equity.

Currently, in 35 states across the U.S., people with periods have to pay a sales tax on their tampons and pads. And that’s in addition to the five to 10 dollars they shell out, monthly.

The gist of our argument? That’s unfair and inequitable treatment. Especially in light of some of the items that are classified as “necessities” in those 35 states and, therefore, exempt from sales tax. The list varies from state to state, including things like: gun club and golf club memberships, BBQ sunflower seeds and beef jerky.

Wins worth celebrating

Since 2015, 32 state legislatures have moved to eliminate the tampon tax. And five have succeeded: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, and New York passed laws to codify it, while citizens of Nevada voted in favor of a ballot measure to do the same. (That doesn’t include the 10 states that don't tax these products as a general matter.

The fight has gone global, too. In recent years, new tax laws have been passed in diverse nations and economies, including Australia, India, Malaysia, and South Africa, among others.

We think the United States hasn’t gone the distance. And that the sales tax-exempt status of menstrual products must be permanently enshrined into law.

The real victory to come

As a matter of good policy, taking on and taking down the tampon tax has the potential to accomplish four key objectives: it lifts a small financial burden; it challenges laws that are archaic; it helps inch toward a model of economic parity and gender equity; and it is a gateway for getting people to talk and think about the wider implications of menstruation — social, economic, and otherwise — in the public sphere.

But as a matter of law, the argument extends far deeper. The tampon tax also amounts to sex-based discrimination in violation of equal protection, at both the state and federal levels. In other words, the tampon tax is more than merely unfair or inequitable — it’s potentially illegal and unconstitutional.

How we treat menstruation in our laws matters. That’s why Period Equity and LOLA are mobilizing legal action to ensure that the cost of periods — including, and especially, the tampon tax — does not pose a barrier to anyone’s ability to obtain an education, live with dignity, and participate fully and productively in civic life.

 — Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of Periods Gone Public: Taking A Stand For Menstrual Equity, and co-founder of Period Equity