The so-called tampon tax, which refers to the fact that sanitary products are subject to sales tax in many states while other health necessities aren’t, has come under increased scrutiny this year thanks to a number of lawsuits and bills across the country. But in Ohio, four women aren’t just suing the state to end its tax — they’re demanding the state’s women be reimbursed the extra money they’ve paid.
A lawsuit filed this month in the Ohio Court of Claims by four women who live in Cleveland calls on the state Department of Taxation to end sales tax on sanitary products. It also seeks class-action status on behalf of all Ohio women and demands a refund of at least $66 million distributed among those women.
The lawsuit claims that the unequal treatment amounts to discrimination against women, violating their rights under the state and federal constitutions, since Ohio exempts prescription drugs and medical equipment from sales tax. The Food and Drug Administration classifies tampons and pads as “medical devices.”
“A tax on tampons and pads is a tax on women,” the complaint reads. “The ‘Tampon Tax’ is irrational. It is discrimination. It is wrong.”
“It really is unequal protection and discriminatory,” Sandra Kelly, a lawyer involved in the lawsuit, told the Columbus Dispatch.
The lawsuit also calculates that the 3 million women residing in the state spend $70 each a year on sanitary products, which with the state’s 5.4 percent sales tax brings in $11 million a year. It seeks reimbursement for that amount going back at least six years. State officials must “return the many millions of dollars they took illegally at the expense of women’s health,” the lawsuit reads.
Ohio lawmakers have already taken action on the same issue. A bill in the state House of Representatives would end sales tax on tampons and pads. Rep. Greta Johnson (D), the sponsor of the bill, says sanitary products are “a medical necessity — not a luxury item” and calls it “a disparate tax because it doesn’t happen to men.” Another state bill would also exempt disposable diapers and non-prescription drugs.
Only ten states currently exempt sanitary products from sales tax, but there’s momentum for more change. In New York, women have filed a similar lawsuit to end the practice and the state Assembly unanimously passed a bill to do so, although it hasn’t passed the Senate. New York City lawmakers have also introduced a bill to provide free tampons and pads in public schools and homeless shelters and increase access in prisons. Last year, Canada got rid of its tampon tax altogether.