Packages of Tampax brand tampons on a pharmacy shelf in New York on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.
Richard Levine | Corbis News | Getty Images
Over a lifetime, period products in the US cost a total about $6,000 per person, according to research published in 2021 — and that’s before taxes.
In 21 states, a sales tax of between 4% and 7% applies to items like tampons and tampons, making them more expensive. data from the show Alliance for Period Supplies.
Most states do not tax certain essential goods, such as grocery items, canned foods, and prescription drugs. But in states with a “tampon tax” — a term that typically applies to tampons and many other period care products — these products are considered “luxury items.” (Broader still is the so-called pink tax, which is not a real tax and refers to cases where products marketed to women, such as razors, deodorants and shampoos, cost more than equivalent products marketed to men. )
Over the past four decades, states with a sales tax have enacted laws repealing such taxes on menstrual products. Minnesota was the first to do so in 1981, and 23 others followed suit, along with Washington, D.C.
Texas was the latest: As of September, there is no state sales tax on period products there. In Kentucky, two bills that would have exempted the tampon tax — one sponsored by Republicans and the other by Democrats — were introduced last week.
The map below shows which states have tampon taxes and which don’t. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon have no sales tax on any products.
Lacey Gero, director of government relations for the Alliance For Period Supplies, said Southeastern states often follow the Texas model for their own legislation, so more may eliminate tampon taxes in the coming years.
“We’ve already heard from states like Alabama, where there will be a big bipartisan push for legislation that would exempt both diapers and period products from sales tax this year,” he said. “So I think the wave is already happening.”
Kentucky Rep. Lisa Wilner, a Democrat who introduced one of two state bills targeting the tampon tax, said legislation in other states may bode well for her own effort.
“Kentucky is a deep red state, so to see this being successful in other red states is absolutely a hopeful sign that this doesn’t have to be a partisan issue at all. It’s a public health issue,” he said.
About a quarter of teens and a third of adults reported having trouble buying period products in a Research 2023 from underwear brand Thinx and nonprofit PERIOD. The thing is more intense among Blacks and Latinos compared to whites.
Many public health experts see period products as essential goods: If they are harder to find or afford, people may prolong using a particular product longer, which can increase the risk of infection or toxic shock syndrome—a rare, life-threatening condition. Some people may also miss work or school during their period if they don’t have access to menstrual care products or forgo other essentials to buy them.
“It’s like, ‘Do I spend money on gas to go to school or buy period products?’ Or, when I’m in class, I might worry about bleeding through my clothes — so do I go to class or just skip it?” said Jhumka Gupta, associate professor of public health at George Mason University.
of Gupta research has shown that lack of affordability for menstrual products is associated with a higher incidence of depression.
There are still several obstacles to eliminating the tampon tax at the national level.
“One of the things that states are struggling with right now is that tighter and tighter budget cycles are coming, so there’s a fear of losing revenue,” Gero said.
Willner said that’s a challenge in Kentucky, where the income tax rate has fallen over the past two years. A state policy passed in 2022 aims to gradually reduce personal income taxes until they are eliminated, as long as a set of fiscal requirements are met.
Willner added that some state lawmakers are also questioning whether the tampon tax should go away.
“There are quite a few of my colleagues who don’t see the importance of this fact or they will say ‘it’s such a small amount of money’ or ‘Why is this needed?’ he said. “Of course, the people asking these questions tend to be people who are not affected by the sales tax on menstrual products.”
In addition to waiving the tampon tax, Willner’s bill would set aside $2 million for Kentucky public schools to provide free menstrual products to students in grades 6 through 12. The Republican-sponsored bill does not require such financing. Willner said she added the provision after hearing from middle and high school students about the embarrassment and anxiety they felt about their period or period at school.
“It brought back memories,” Willner said.
However, he added, this provision could make it more difficult to pass the bill.
“I have to say I’m a little skeptical that it’s going to happen,” he said.
In 25 states and Washington, DC, period products are supposed to be provided to students free of charge. Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey and Ohio passed laws creating such policies last year. But not all 25 states have money for this purpose, so it’s often up to schools to apply for grants or pay for the products themselves.
Gero said advocates of free period products are pushing for additional legislation that would specifically set aside funding for schools to provide them.
In the future, states may also consider bills that make period products free in public restrooms, he added. Ann Arbor, Michigan became the first city to do so after passing a bill in 2021.
“We’re excited that more initiatives are happening at the local level because it puts pressure on states to take more action,” Gero said.