Mar 8, 2023 - Economy

Momentum builds to ban "period taxes"

Period product taxes by state
Data: Alliance for Period Supplies; Note: Includes legislation that went into effect in January 2023; Map: Madison Dong/Axios Visuals Editors note: This chart has been updated to correct the tax status of Washington, D.C.

Twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have banned taxes on menstrual items and 12 states are considering legislation for so-called “period tax” exemptions this year.

The big picture: As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, progress in efforts towards gender equity still lags when it comes to how much money women spend on everyday items.

  • Only two states — New York and California — have made it illegal to have gender-based pricing, also known as the “pink tax,” which is the practice of charging different (often higher) prices for goods or services marketed to women than for men.
  • But headway in eliminating the so-called “period” or “tampon tax” on menstrual products has been an exception to the lack progress with the gender pay gap.

By the numbers: The average cost of menstrual products is about $20 per cycle and adds up to about $18,000 over the average woman’s lifetime, the National Organization for Women estimated in 2021.

  • One in four people in the U.S. who menstruate can’t afford period products, according to the nonprofit Alliance for Period Supplies.
  • Tampon prices rose in the first half of 2022 by nearly 10% and pads by more than 8%, a NielsenIQ report found.

Efforts to abolish the period or tampon tax

2023 has been a busy year for new legislation and conversations about menstrual products, said Ameer Abdulraman, national campaign manager for Period., a global nonprofit.

  • “We’re really seeing an increase in recognition on this issue when in the past people didn’t even know this was a problem,” he said.
  • “Since the fall of Roe, there’s been a lot more conversations around the tampon tax issue in conservative states,” Abdulraman told Axios. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
  • According to the Alliance for Period Supplies legislation tracker, 108 bills related to menstrual health have been filed with many related to making period products more accessible or equitable.
  • “The tampon tax is very much a middle-class issue where access to menstrual products is essential for everyone,” Abdulraman said. “You need to be able to afford menstrual products to have to worry about the tampon tax.”
  • States with proposed legislation related to the period tax this year include Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), who has introduced several bills to Congress in the last few years including the Menstrual Equity for All Act, told Axios that she has “long argued that access to menstrual products is a health care right and a human right.”

  • “It’s not a choice to use menstrual products, and tampon taxes disproportionately penalizes 50% of our country that needs period products,” Meng said in a statement.
  • Meng said she is “championing a whole of government approach to ending period poverty” with the Menstrual Equity for All Act, which she plans to reintroduce this session. “I strongly believe ending the tampon tax is a crucial part of that approach.”

CVS Health started paying the tax on period products purchased in-store and online in 12 states in October and has cut prices nationwide on store brand period products.

Some states have laws prohibiting any organization from covering the tax on any product, CVS told Axios.

  • The company said it has been working with national nonprofits and “working to help eliminate the tax nationwide.”
  • The states where CVS is covering the tax are Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

What is the pink tax

The pink tax is not technically a tax but refers to gender-based pricing for products and services marketed to women. It’s broader than a period or tampon tax.

  • Personal care products, including shampoo, razors, body wash, and lotion, that were targeted at women cost an average of 12.7% more than similar products targeted at men, a 2022 study from The Balance found.
  • Razor cartridges marketed toward women cost nearly 25% more than those for men.
  • A typical California woman pays about $2,381 more a year for the same goods and services than her male counterpart because of the pink tax, which adds up to around $188,000 over a lifetime, a 2020 state report found.
  • Since Jan. 1, it is now illegal in California for a business to discriminate against “person’s gender with respect to the price charged for services of similar or like kind.”

Meanwhile, Axios’ Emily Peck recently reported on a literal pink tax, that the average U.S. tariff rate on women's underwear is 15%, compared to 11.5% for men's underwear.

The bottom line: “There's increased awareness about what's happening to women and the specific challenges that women face with their personal finances,” Bankrate analyst Sarah Foster said. “The pink tax is just one example.”

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