The Daily Reflector, page A4, Greenville, NC February 9, 2020
Why are tampons taxed when Viagra is not? In recent years, there has been a push to abolish the “tampon tax,” however, 34 states continue to tax feminine hygiene products like tampons and pads. In most states, including North Carolina, menstrual products are not sales tax-exempt, meaning that state and local taxes can add more than 9 percent to the cost of products. Feminine hygiene products are not considered “necessities of life,” even though menstruation is a natural bodily function that typically causes pain, discomfort and interference in a woman’s daily routine. The tampon tax is just one example under a larger umbrella termed the “pink tax,” which refers to the higher prices women pay for gender-specific products.
Many health insurance plans offer special expense accounts that allow participants to set aside a portion of their earnings before paying taxes to go toward medical expenses. These accounts are referred to as Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and can allow users to save up to 40 percent on the over-the-counter medical purchases. However, the Internal Revenue Service does not classify menstrual products as medical necessities, meaning they cannot be purchased using untaxed earnings in FSA/HSA accounts.
However, the point is not merely for women to save money over the course of their reproductive years, but a push for equality. Poverty disproportionately affects women, and for the majority of people living paycheck to paycheck, menstrual products are unattainable. In the U.S., approximately 14 percent of young girls and women live below the poverty line (approximately $26,000 a year for a family of four). This means that nearly 12 million U.S. women and girls aged 12-52 live below the poverty line. This socioeconomic disparity is evident at nearly every age and is strongest during a woman’s reproductive years. Despite the staggering statistics, tampons and pads cannot be purchased through government assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid. Additionally, shelters and food banks commonly report that tampons and pads are some of the most-requested items.
In 2019 alone, tampon tax bills were introduced in 22 states and the topic has been debated globally in places like Europe and India. Supporters argue that tampons and pads should be treated like groceries and medical supplies, meaning they should qualify for tax-exemption because they are indeed necessities. The American Medical Association supports legislation to remove all sales tax on feminine hygiene products. “Feminine hygiene products are essential for women’s health, and taxes on them are a regressive penalty,” said AMA former President David O. Barbe, M.D. “We applaud the states that have already eliminated sales taxes on these products, and we urge every state to follow suit.”
In certain states, necessity exemptions include bingo supplies, erectile dysfunction pills, gun club memberships and tattoos. Feminine hygiene products undeniably rank as a necessity for most women, the majority of their lives. These products are essential for women attending school, working and functioning in society. There is no reasonable justification to tax feminine hygiene products given the exemptions that exist in every state for the necessities (and even non-necessities) of life. Simply put, tampons are a necessity for all women and should be tax-free. Period.
Olivia Campbell is a second-year medical student in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, and a 2019-2020 NC Albert Schweitzer Fellow. She is from Kernersville, N.C.