State Sales Tax Practices Prompt Tampon Tax Advocacy

Julie Houth
The tampon tax is the sales tax most states impose on tampons, pads, and other menstrual products.

The tampon tax is the sales tax most states impose on tampons, pads, and other menstrual products.

Deagreez via GettyImages

I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these . . . I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.

—President Barack Obama

This year marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Although this was a big step toward equality, the fight continues with the tampon tax movement. The tampon tax, also called the pink tax, is a catchy term for the sales tax most states impose on tampons, pads, and other menstrual products. These products are considered nonessential goods. In contrast, products considered a necessity, such as food and medicine, are exempt from state sales tax. Which products constitute a necessity varies across the states. In some states, you can purchase bingo supplies, cotton candy, erectile dysfunction pills, gun club memberships, and tattoos sales-tax-free because of necessity exemptions. Wondering why these items fall under necessity exemptions and menstrual products do not? You are not alone. In January 2016, President Barack Obama spoke out to support eliminating the tampon tax saying, “I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these . . . I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

Advocates contend that menstrual products are a necessity for most women for most of their lives because those products are essential for working and functioning in society. Advocates argue the tampon tax amounts to sex-based discrimination, violating equal protection under both state and federal constitutions.

Brief Recent Timeline on Tampon Tax Advocacy

In October 2015, Period Equity cofounder Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, in partnership with Cosmopolitan magazine, posted the first US nationwide petition calling on all states to eliminate the tampon tax. Period Equity is the nation’s first law and policy organization fighting for menstrual equity and is committed to ensuring that menstrual products are affordable, safe, and available to those in need. Weiss-Wolf defines menstrual equity as a broader policy frame in which the tampon tax, and advocacy to remove it, exists.

In March 2016, five plaintiffs sued New York State in a class-action lawsuit arguing that the tampon tax was unconstitutional. Period Equity cofounder Laura Strausfeld led the legal fight, and within days, Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to eliminate the tax, and the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed. Illinois eliminated the tax that same year. In 2017, Florida eliminated the tax, and in 2018, Connecticut and Nevada eliminated the tax.

In June 2019, LOLA, an organic reproductive care company, joined forces with Period Equity and launched the Tax Free. Period. campaign to end the sales tax on menstrual products. LOLA provides period and sexual wellness offerings, allowing women to make deliberate decisions about their reproductive health.

In 2019, lawmakers in 22 states introduced bills to eliminate the tax. Consequently, Rhode Island repealed the tax. California passed a budget bill in which period products were exempt from the tax for two years. Virginia decreased the tax. Several states took steps to increase access to menstrual products in schools, prisons, and shelters. The following states have eliminated the tampon tax as of 2019: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Protest Tour and Future Goals

In November 2019, the Tampon Tax Protest Tour, the largest sales tax protest in modern history, began. Refinery29, an American digital media and entertainment company focused on young women, leads the tour, which is a collective action in the first step in initiating lawsuits against the 33 states still implementing the tampon tax. Tax Free. Period.’s legal action declaration indicates that the tampon tax amounts to sex-based discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause under both state and federal constitutions, making the tax unconstitutional and therefore illegal. The purpose of this legal declaration is to put states on notice by sending the declaration to each states’ respective governor.

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Julie Houth is a staff attorney for Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP.