The "Tampon Tax" refers to the sales tax placed on the retail purchase of products related to menstruation and feminine hygiene.1 Some states tax these products, because they are seen as luxury items rather than health essentials.1 Other necessities, groceries, prescriptions, and some OTC medications are typically tax-exempt in these same states.2 As of July 2022, 22 states charged a sales tax on menstruation-related products.1 This represents a disparity for those who menstruate, as the products associated with menstruation are not recognized by the government as essential health needs, which contributes to inaccessibility of these important products for many.
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The “tampon tax” is an example of what is commonly referred to as a “pink tax,” meaning the price of a good or service is marked higher simply because it is marketed toward women.3 This term relates to the typical pink color of products marketed toward women, which are sold on average at a higher price 42% of the time compared with products for men.3 The “pink tax” is applicable to a wide array of everyday items, including girls’ clothing; hygiene products, such as women’s razors and shampoos; personal care services; and toys marketed for girls.3 The tax on menstrual products increases their prices and makes them less affordable for many citizens who require use of such items for basic hygiene.2
There are several advocacy groups pushing for legislative remedies, including Ax the Pink Tax, Change.org, the Consumer Federation of America, and Wunderkind.
On average, an individual who requires the use of menstrual products will pay up to $225 in “tampon taxes” over the course of their lifetime.2 This is in addition to the cost of the products themselves, which can be expensive. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this issue became more prevalent. Many individuals faced insecurity when it came to accessing menstrual products across all socioeconomic backgrounds, but it was even more challenging for those in communities that may have lost employment, housing, or income because of the instability presented by the pandemic.2
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted in March 2020 to help combat this disparity, among other aims.2 Under the CARES Act, menstrual care products such as cups, liners, pads, sponges, and tampons are recognized as medical expenses.4 This allows these products to be purchased using a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA); previously, making such purchases with these accounts could have resulted in a penalty charge of 20% because of the way the items were classified under the Internal Revenue Service tax code.5 Now individuals with FSAs or HSAs may file for reimbursement of menstrual products purchased.2
The CARES Act is an important step toward establishing health equity across the country.
The definition of equity in access to health care “implies that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full health potential; in short, the playing field is leveled for all individuals, according to a commentary published on the National Academy of Medicine’s website.”6
Although the CARES Act does not fully achieve health equity in terms of menstrual products, it certainly makes them more accessible to individuals across the United States who may need them. The CARES Act only offers “menstrual product relief for employed people who menstruate and have access to an FSA or HSA fund,” but it is certainly a start.5
A related development occurred in fall 2022 when CVS announced it would pay the sales tax on menstrual products in 12 states where doing so would be permissible. The states are Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.7 Other states have laws in place prohibiting third parties from covering or waiving the sales tax for purchasers.
About the Authors
Hannah S. Mercado is a PharmD candidate at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy and an MPA candidate at the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, both in Lexington.
Joseph L. Fink III, JD, DSc (Hon), BSPharm, FAPhA, is professor emeritus of pharmacy law and policy at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy in Lexington.
1. Tampon tax. Alliance for Period Supplies. Accessed March 9, 2023.
2.Rodriguez L. The tampon tax: everything you need to know. Global Citizen. June 28, 2021. Accessed March 9, 2023.
3.The pink tax: how gender-based pricing hurts women’s buying power. Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress. December 2016. Accessed March 9, 2023.
4.Moss K, Wexler A, Dawson L, et al. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act: summary of key health provisions. Kaiser Family Foundation. April 9, 2020. Accessed March 9, 2023.
5.Rodriguez L. U.S. government acknowledges period products are necessities in COVID-19 stimulus bill. Global Citizen. April 10, 2020. Accessed March 9, 2023.
6.Goldberg A. It matters how we define health care equity. National Academy of Medicine. January 18, 2013. Accessed March 9, 2023.
7.Mayer BA. CVS dropping price of tampons and paying the ‘pink tax’: what to know. October 18, 2022. Accessed March 9, 2023. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cvs-dropping-price-of-tampons-and-paying-the-pink-tax-what-to-know#The-impact-of-inflation-on-period-products