Thirty-five states in the U.S. currently impose sales tax on menstrual products—a situation made possible by the fact that these items aren’t deemed a basic human necessity, which means they’re subject to sales tax under current tax codes. Since the average person who menstruates will use 9,100 tampons over the course of a lifetime, that adds up to hundreds of dollars’ worth of sales tax.
Brands like Seventh Generation are putting up a fight against the “tampon tax” and championing the idea that access to period care products should be a right, not a privilege. “The most frustrating part is period care products aren’t considered ‘necessities,’ while in some states, items such as marshmallows, golf club memberships, and cowboy boots remain tax-free,” says Ashley Orgain, Seventh Generation’s Global Director for Advocacy and Sustainability.
“The most frustrating part is period care products aren’t considered ‘necessities,’ while in some states, items such as marshmallows, golf club memberships, and cowboy boots remain tax-free.”
Seventh Generation has been making sustainable home products for 30 years. In 2005, it launched a period care line, voluntarily providing ingredient disclosure so people can make informed decisions about how to care for their body’s most sensitive areas. The brand is no stranger to activism, especially on issues like climate justice, renewable energy, and ingredient disclosure. Now, the fight for more equitable menstruation is taking center stage. For each package of Seventh Generation tampons, pads, and liners sold in the U.S. (up to 1 million packs per year), it donates $0.43—the value of the tampon tax—to organizations working to get period products into the hands of people who need them.
The Effects of Limiting Access to Period Care
A person spends an average of 2,400 days menstruating—a bodily function stigmatized in many countries. UNESCO reports that one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their period, and others drop out once they begin menstruating. The repercussions of having an entire generation of girls missing school can limit earning potential, deprive them of an education, and isolate them from their communities.
In the United States, Obstetrics & Gynecology reports a survey of low-income women found nearly two-thirds couldn’t afford hygiene products during the previous year. As an example, California adds a six percent sales tax on a $7 box of tampons, which increases the price by $0.42. It seems like a small change, but can deeply affect the 13.8 percent of women in the state who live below the poverty line. Similarly, a study conducted in St. Louis found nearly half the women surveyed said there were times within the past year when they could not afford both food and period products. “Tampons, pads, and liners are not covered under government assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP, and many resort to using cloth rags, toilet paper, paper towels, or even diapers to make do,” Orgain says.
Seventh Generation believes period care options should be available to everyone who menstruates, regardless of background, geography, or socioeconomic status. “Menstruating shouldn’t stand in the way of an education or the pursuit of one’s goals, and we hope that in the future, the stigma surrounding periods is lifted,” Orgain says. “Periods aren’t something to hide, and they should be talked about openly.”
How to Join the Fight for Menstrual Equality
Seventh Generation is working with non-profit partners to create systemic change around the world. This includes advocating for legislation that repeals the U.S. tampon tax and promoting free access to products in public and government spaces, such as prisons, public restrooms, and public schools.
On an individual level, Orgain says anyone can get involved in the fight for menstrual equality. Here are two ideas to get you started:
- Read up: Research the policies in your state, call your representatives, and support petitions that call for the end of the tampon tax.
- Donate your time: Volunteer or donate to an organization that distributes period care products in your community.
Although there’s still a long way to go, 11 states have removed the tampon tax, including Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Nevada, Minnesota, Connecticut, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, and Maryland. Two other states—Arizona and Nebraska—have introduced bills in support of eliminating the tampon tax, and the city of Denver voted in March 2019 to remove its 4.3 percent sales tax.