What's The Deal With The Tampon Tax?

Malcontent among women over the high price of tampons and pads is nothing new. Paying for feminine hygiene products is a necessary evil. Emphasis on the word “necessary.”

A handful of countries such as Canada, France, Britain and Australia have seen a recent uproar over the so-called “tampon tax” controversy, which points out that feminine hygiene products are taxed while other items deemed essential are not. A group of women in France gained attention recently over their unorthodox protest methods, which is how University of South Florida junior and feminist Paige Ricketts heard about the issue.

“I saw a video on Facebook about the protests in France,” Ricketts said. “Women were showing their disapproval of the tampons having a luxury tax, so they wore white leggings with no protection while they were on their periods. I thought it was a great way to cause awareness and it really got people talking about the issue that they probably didn't even know was an issue.”

Currently in the U.S., there are 40 states that apply a sales tax to feminine hygiene items. There are five states that have no sales tax: Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, Alaska and Oregon. The remaining five have a sales tax, but don’t apply it to women’s hygiene products: Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Women having to deal with periods isn’t a recent phenomenon, so why is there so much fuss all of a sudden? Dr. Sara Crawley, Associate Professor of Sociology at USF, has a strong interest in feminist and gender theories. She offered her own idea as to why talk of this tax has become more widespread.

“This is a long-standing feminist issue it’s not a new topic,” Crawley said. “It’s just one that gains a foothold periodically at certain political moments such as a political change in Canada where they have some shift in their policy.”

As of July last year, Canada stopped applying the 5 percent goods and services tax to feminine hygiene products.

Aimee Peruche, a sophomore and sociology major at USF, feels that the “tampon tax” is adding unnecessary financial strain to women in America.

“Many women of our generation are reaching the point where we are supporting ourselves and we're seeing the real cost,” Peruche said.

So let’s look at the real cost.

A box of tampons can run from around $5 to $11 depending on the brand and size of the box. If a woman buys one box of tampons every month at a price of $7 starting at the age of 12 all the way to age 50, she will have spent $3,192 not including tax. This number doesn’t account for the fact that many women will buy multiple boxes of tampons or a combination of tampons and pads.

The real issue may not be that these taxes are a burden to women, but that they are simply not considering the basic necessities across all demographics. Other essential items, such as toilet paper and toothpaste, are subject to taxation as well.

“It’s an interesting question. Why as a society would we need to tax things that help people with basic hygiene,” asks Crawley. “I mean take toothpaste. You use it otherwise your teeth rot and fall out of your head, you can get infections. It seems to me to be a pretty important health maintenance issue. What would be the purpose of wanting to tax it is a damn fine question.”

We have to be consistent across the board and apply rule of law: being fair in how you apply the law and you make sure that it’s being applied in an unbiased, ethical manner. If the reason why tampons shouldn’t be taxed is because they’re necessities, then we need to do an assessment of what other items are necessities as well.

The struggle lies in gaining enough attention to ignite a change. Educating both men and women on the issues that affect either sex would be a good place to start. If this were the case, there would be far more empathy for these kinds of problems. Dr. Crawley puts it best:

“Conveniently, you can disavow it when it’s not something you yourself are affected by.”