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Utah’s Irrational and Misguided Views on Ending the Tampon Tax

Last week, I discussed the infamous “Tampon Tax” along with the issues and disagreements surrounding the sales taxes tied to feminine hygiene products as they’re regarded as “luxury” items. Many women are seeing products necessary to good hygiene and feminine health being unfairly taxed under the claim that the products themselves constitute as luxury items rather than necessary. This, of course, is absurd.

This issue has, once again, been brought before the Utah legislature for this year’s legislative session, where it has been shot down by generally all-male committees in the past. It went before a committee for a public hearing last week, which I attended. The bill drafted to end relevant taxations was not met favorably, even to female committee members. Interesting. Let’s look at some of the grounds for opposition.

One female committee member decided to forgo support for the bill due to environmental issues. She claimed that because landfills and other polluted areas were dangerously large and expanding, it would be problematic to encourage the sale of non-reusable hygiene products; as they would indefinitely increase the amount of harmful waste we accumulate in our state. Yes, it’s true that tampons, their plastic applicators, pads, diapers, etc. are all products that cannot be reused after the fact. And yes, they’re probably going to end up in some landfill somewhere after they’ve been used. However, I have reason to believe that reducing the prices of these products through the elimination of their sales tax isn’t going to incentivize people to purchase more of them and open-endedly pollute our state the way this committee member seemed to think it would.

This particular committee member based her assumptions about the behaviors of consumers on the idea that feminine hygiene products are luxuries. But the fact of the matter is that they’re not. Luxury items are items that are priced and regarded a certain way so as to generate exclusivity among members of higher socioeconomic classes. They’re coveted. They’re sought after. They’re expensive because they’re bought out of desire, and not out of necessity. And even at absurdly high prices, there are still people around willing to buy these items because it isn’t about the practicality of the product. It’s about the stigma attached to it – the social effects.

Does any of this sound like the way you would describe a tampon or a maxi pad? Eliminating the sales tax on feminine hygiene products really isn’t going to significantly increase its consumption and overfill our landfills. Women don’t just miraculously have more periods and use more tampons and pads because the price goes down. Women also don’t decide to triple stack tampons, pads and diapers because suddenly they can afford them more easily. Why on earth would that be in women’s interests? It seems more like an uncomfortable hassle than anything, and definitely not of any social benefit the way luxury items are understood to be. I can’t imagine anyone would obtain a higher social status by buying an excess of tampons to waste them. And I can’t imagine they’d become an even greater pollutant than they already are. It’s an irrational case.

The other outspoken opposition came from a male committee member. He alluded to the idea that Utah’s losses in tax revenue would be too great should we accept a tax removal on feminine hygiene products. To this, I just have to say that other states seem to be making it work just fine as the consumer savings are likely to be going right back into the economy. The state losses aren’t significant. And if they are, maybe try taxing other non-essential items that are currently tax exempt, like Rogaine. Additionally, this committee member made the claim that if someone can afford tampons, why shouldn’t they pay the additional tax? Again, this kind of logic might make sense for a luxury item. If you can afford it, buy it. But it is not a luxury item being discussed, and its necessity status spans across every socioeconomic position. Feminine hygiene purchases aren’t exclusive to only those who “can afford it.” Some people can afford the tax, but some people can’t.

These were the most prominently outspoken oppositions to the elimination of the feminine hygiene tax in Utah at the public hearing. Each, to me, seemed economically illogical and irrational, and the ideas aren’t strong enough for me to buy into the claim that we can and should continue to tax these necessary items.

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