The state of New York taxes tampons. Five Manhattan women are trying to change that.
A new lawsuit brought forward by the five women, which names the State Department of Taxation and Finance as a defendant, claims New York’s so-called tampon tax is “a vestige of another era.” The lawsuit claims that “the Department [of Taxation and Finance]’s double standard for men and women finds no support in the tax law and serves no purpose other than to discriminate.”
Currently, New York State exempts many everyday items from taxation. Some examples include fruit rollups, ChapStick, potato chips, and dandruff shampoo. However, for items exclusively used by women, such as tampons and sanitary pads, the state does not make such an exemption. Each year, the sale of women’s health care products generates $14 million in tax revenue.
Not only are these kinds of taxes discriminatory against women, they also create a significant obstacle for economically disadvantaged women trying to access the products they need. Catherine O’Neil, one of the plantiffs in this suit, argued that the taxation of tampons “is a regressive tax. Poor women don’t have the ability to buy tampons in bulk. They buy in small packages and thus they are taxed more.”
Low-income women often struggle to afford these basic products, especially since government assistance programs do not provide any financial assistance for purchasing these items. Some women become so desperate that they are forced to use whatever they can find, including old rags. This New York lawsuit aims to address the problem by challenging the added cost incurred by sales taxes.
New York is not the only state that taxes the sale of feminine care products. In fact, only a small minority don’t. Only ten states do not impose a sales tax on the purchase of feminine products. Efforts have gained traction in other states and around the world to eliminate similar “tampon taxes.” Last year, Australian women rallied to voice their frustration with the tax scheme, and Canada ditched its tampon tax altogether. Meanwhile, New York State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill this month to eliminate the tax.
Bryan Dewan is an intern at ThinkProgress.