If you buy a pack of pads or tampons, odds are you’ll be taxed for it. In the United States, 33 states currently enact sales tax on period products — but activists are fighting to change that. On Wednesday, November 20, LOLA and Period Equity launched the Tampon Tax Protest.
This protest comes after the Tax Free. Period. campaign began this past summer. After raising awareness about these taxes, it's time for the next step. “We think in order to challenge what we see as a discriminatory tax, we need to leverage the tools of law and policy to mobilize legal action,” LOLA co-founder Jordana Kier tells Refinery29.
People can participate by joining a real-life protest at the Tampon Tax Protest Truck, which will make stops in Austin, Texas (November 20), New Orleans, Louisiana (November 22), Nashville, Tennessee (November 24), Atlanta, Georgia (November 26), and Greenville, South Carolina (November 27) — all states that tax period products. The protest also asks people in those states, as well as others that tax tampons, to mail their receipts to the state government and ask for a reimbursement.
The tampon tax is discriminatory, Kier says, because it only taxes people who menstruate. And, she points out, a lot of less necessary products aren’t taxed. “When you see that barbecue sunflower seeds are exempt from sales tax, or gun club memberships, or donuts, that’s when I think the absurdity becomes really clear, and the injustice, and the unconstitutionality,” she says. As Splinter News explains, most states tax "tangible personal property" but make exceptions for certain "necessities" — which vary from state to state. "Necessities" commonly include groceries and medication, but those state-to-state exemptions mean that South Dakota, for example, declines to tax rodeo entry fees — but does tax tampons.
Period Equity has been fighting taxes against menstrual products in the U.S. since 2015, and in 2016, they won a major victory. After Period Equity filed a class action lawsuit against New York state, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law exempting period products from sales tax. Since then, seven additional states have exempted menstrual products from state and local sales taxes. “Litigation was absolutely part of the story in New York, and we found a way to do it again,” Period Equity co-founder Jennifer Weiss-Wolf tells Refinery29.
Although sales taxes are relatively small, Weiss-Wolf says that those pennies can add up. “Nobody should assume that any amount of money is not important, and people who are low income are paying a much larger percentage of their overall income to sales tax,” she says.
However, there’s another purpose, too. “We’re educating people about the economic impact of menstruation," she says. Raising awareness of the reality of period poverty in the U.S. can lead to actions "such as ensuring menstrual products are available for low-income students, for people who are incarcerated, for people who are experiencing homelessness. There’s a lot we can do that’s part of broader policy and social movement.”
People who live in the 17 states in which period products aren’t taxed can support the campaign by encouraging friends and family in other states to participate and by spreading awareness on social media. And if they travel to a state that taxes pads and tampons, they can mail those receipts in, even if they don’t reside in that state.
“People with periods throughout the country will be able to join in a nationwide Tampon Tax Protest,” Kier says. “By utilizing the tools policy and public engagement, that is how we truly create change.”