The End Of California's Tampon Tax Could Be Near

"We are being taxed for being born as women."

The California board that oversees state taxes has endorsed a measure that would bar tampons and menstrual pads from being taxed as luxury items, marking a major step in the campaign to repeal the so-called tampon tax.

The state Board of Equalization on Tuesday unanimously agreed to back a bill recently introduced by two members of the state assembly, Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar). The measure would exempt tampons and pads from state sales taxes.

California is one of 40 states where tampons aren't considered a necessity, and thus are subject to sales tax. (Many other health-related items are classified as necessities under the California tax code and aren't taxed.) The Board of Equalization's members are elected. The board's endorsement is important because its administration of state taxes gives it an authoritative view of items that should be taxable and exempt from sales tax.

“Effectively we are being taxed for being born as women,” Garcia said in a statement. The bill "is about social justice, gender equity in our tax code, it's an opportunity to end an outdated tax that uniquely targets women for a function of their body, a function we don't control and can't ignore every month of our adult life."

Garcia's office estimates the bill would save California women $20 million annually. The bill's sponsors argue that the tax puts an undue burden on the approximately 2 million California women living in poverty.

"By putting that money back in the hands of women, we are creating greater access to a very important health product -- especially in low-income and homeless populations," said Chang.

Of the 45 states that have sales taxes, 40 of them tax tampons and sanitary napkins as luxury items.
Of the 45 states that have sales taxes, 40 of them tax tampons and sanitary napkins as luxury items.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Backlash against the tampon tax has picked up steam in recent months. A petition started by Cosmopolitan magazine gathered more than 43,000 signatures, while a similar effort aimed at the European Union drew over 300,000 supporters. Last year, the Canadian government was pressured into dropping its tampon tax. French lawmakers followed suit in December.

President Barack Obama commented on the issue during an interview this month with YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen, who told the president she doesn't "know anyone who has a period who think it's a luxury."

"I think that's fair to say," said Obama, who said he was unaware of the tax until Nilsen brought it up. "I suspect it's because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed, and I think it's pretty sensible for women in those states ... to get those taxes removed."

So far, just five states have specifically exempted pads and tampons from sales taxes: Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Everywhere else, women pay as much as 10 percent in taxes on the already high cost of getting a monthly period.

"When we look at other items that are tax exempt, I think it is only fair that these essential female products be included,” Garcia said in a statement this month. "In fact, it is my hope that one day these necessary items will be free to all women."

Bills similar to California's are under consideration in New York and Ohio.

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