The fight to end the tampon tax, one year later

Most people only want to talk about taxes once a year. But Jennifer Weiss-Wolf’s life now revolves around taxes – or rather one specific tax: the "tampon tax." A lawyer and vice president for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Weiss-Wolf leads the national campaign to eliminate what she and activists across the country believe is a discriminatory tax.

In the United States, menstrual products like tampons and pads are subject to sales tax, but other products deemed "necessary" by state tax codes – like potato chips and donuts – are not. As of the start of 2016, 40 out of 50 states collected sales tax on menstrual products.

Together with Cosmopolitan Magazine, Weiss-Wolf launched a national petition on demanding an end to what so many believe is an inequitable tax. Since the campaign’s launch last year, her petition has gathered over 60,000 signatures and inspired a movement of similar petitions targeting individual states. The movement has won the attention and support of President Obama and the American Medical Association; who both denounced the tax as a matter of gender equity and public health. Weiss-Wolf herself has penned more than 20 op-eds on the topic, in outlets from The New York Times to Newsweek, and the movement for "menstrual equity" has received consistent and extensive media coverage.

That’s not to say that it’s been a straight road or an easy task. Opponents of the tampon tax received bad news early September when Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to eliminate California’s tampon tax. The blow was particularly hard for Helen and Rachel Lee, 18-year-old twins from Los Angeles who had been campaigning for a year to end the tax in California. The young women had just arrived in Sacramento to deliver their petition signatures to the governor when they found out. “Though our initial reaction was anger and disbelief at the decision, by no means are we defeated,” the twins said in an update to their signers.

In total, fourteen other states and three cities have pushed for fairness in their tax code by arguing that tampon taxes are bad for equality and the economy. Three states – New York, Illinois and Connecticut – as well as the City of Chicago were successful in eliminating the tax. Other states, like California, faltered in their efforts to ax the tax: both Utah and Indiana blocked similar efforts.

With 37 states to go, the road ahead is long, but clear says Weiss-Wolf. In a recent Cosmopolitan op-ed she co-authored with CA State Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who sponsored California’s tampon tax bill, they argue that the tampon tax is just one more way women “are bled economically by a thousand cuts.”

“We do not have to choose between fiscal responsibility and a just, equitable tax code. Consider other items California chooses to exempt: buy a bag of Doritos, a box of Pop-Tarts, a latte ... and you’ll pay no sales tax in the golden state. Meanwhile, women still earn less than men and are often paying more for the exact same things, from razors to shampoo to our dry cleaning bill."

Sales tax laws were written at a time when there were almost no women in a position to advance legislation or help influence what was considered to be a necessity or not, points out Weiss-Wolf. At the time, U.S. legislators – mostly men – had no clear awareness or willingness to prioritize menstruation and the products required to manage it. But that is no longer the case today, and the move to end discriminatory taxes now has the attention of the nation! Advocates are increasing their call to a roar, demanding that our tax code reflect the necessities of all taxpayers.

You can join them by signing the national petition, starting one to target your state legislator, or tuning into an online panel with Jennifer, Rachel, and Helen and Cosmopolitan Senior Editor Danielle McNally on Friday, October 14th at 12 pm EST/9 am PST.