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The Year of the Tampon Exemption

  • Feb 15, 2016 | Gail Cole

 Should gender-specific products be exempt?

Update 9.14.16: California Governor Brown has vetoed legislation that would have created an exemption for feminine hygiene products. Learn more.

Update 7.22.2016: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed the legislation exempting feminine hygiene products from state and local sales taxes, calling it "a regressive tax on essential products that women have had to pay for far too long." He  added that "lifting it is a matter of social and economic justice." The exemption takes effect on September 1.

It’s the Year of the Monkey for adherents of the Chinese Zodiac. For the United Nations, it’s the International Year of the Pulses. But with respect to sales tax, 2016 may be the Year of the Tampon Exemption.

In recent years, the need to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales and use tax or value added tax (VAT) has been raised around the globe. It’s been discussed in Australia and Great Britain, Canada and France. It was only a matter of time before it reached the desks of state lawmakers.

During the first weeks of 2016, lawmakers in California and Utah introduced legislation seeking sales and use tax exemptions for feminine hygiene products. Similar bills have also been introduced in Connecticut, New York, Mississippi and Ohio.

Connecticut’s H.B. 5119 seeks to “exempt tampons and sanitary pads from the sales tax.” According to Rep. Kelly Luxenberg (D-Manchester), who introduced similar legislation last year, it would cost the state approximately $3.6 million annually.

New York’s A. 7555 / S. 6726 seek to exempt “certain basic necessities from sales and use taxes.” The justification for the Senate bill reads, in pertinent part: “Some view a tax on such products as a ‘tax on women’ since it is undeniably a necessity for women. It is an oversight to exclude other products which are intended to promote the health of citizens from a sales and use tax while at the same time imposing a tax on feminine hygiene products, a basic necessity.”

Mississippi's S.B. 2053 seeks to exempt from sales taxation sales of feminine hygiene products.

Ohio’s H.B. 272, introduced in June 2015 and pending in the Ways and Means Committee, seeks to exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products.

Does essential mean exempt?

It should be noted that sanitary napkins and tampons are not specifically targeted for tax. As “tangible personal property”— like books or teacups — they are generally subject to sales tax in all states that have one. To date, only five states specifically exempt them: Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Yet proponents of the exemption argue that these are essential items, like food, because protection is necessary in order for a woman to function normally while menstruating. As essential items, sales tax should not apply.

Some states do exempt food and food ingredients from sales tax, but not all do. Prescription medicine is generally exempt, but tax typically applies to over-the-counter medicine. Clothing, another product that can be credibly deemed essential, is generally subject to sales tax (although often exempt for brief periods during state sales tax holidays). Toilet paper? Essential (as far as I’m concerned) and taxable. Toothbrushes? Same same.

So should tampons and sanitary products be exempt? The state lawmakers will decide, and their decisions will likely vary from state to state.

Tired of dealing with changes in product taxability? Consider switching to sales tax software. Learn more.

Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.