Now is not the time to be discreet. Let’s be upfront about the “tampon tax.”
Oh wait — did we say tampon? Sorry. We meant “feminine hygiene product.”
Last week Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, and Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, proposed an ordinance to exclude tampons from Chicago’s 1.25 percent share of the sales tax. Their idea mirrors international efforts to end what many consider to be an unfair and sexist tax.
The two also sent a resolution to the Illinois General Assembly suggesting that tampons be added to the list of food, drugs and medical appliances for which consumers pay only a minimal state sales tax. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has come out in support of lowering the tax.
The problem isn’t that there is an extra tax on tampons; it’s that they don’t meet the Illinois Department of Revenue’s requirements to be considered medical devices, which means they’re not eligible for the state’s reduced, 1 percent sales tax rate.
To meet that requirement, tampons would have to cure, treat or ease the symptoms of a disease, illness or injury, or be a substitute for “any part of the body that is lost or diminished.” For example, Band-Aids are considered medical devices because they act as a substitute for skin.
Instead, tampons and pads get lumped together with breath spray, hand sanitizer, foot powder and lip balm, all of which are taxed at the state’s usual 6.25 percent rate. Add in the Cook County and Chicago sales taxes (not to mention the 1 percent Regional Transportation Authority tax), and women are paying 10.25 percent in sales taxes for their monthly accouterments.
The best estimates say that women spend $70 to $120 on tampons and pads a year. So if a woman buys tampons in Chicago, she also would pay $7.18 to $12.30 in sales taxes, which doesn’t seem like much. But it adds up. Because, ahem, it’s not just tampons that get a woman through a visit from Aunt Flo. It’s aspirin, heating pads and new sheets. And then pile on the so-called “pink tax,” or the extra money women pay for certain products and services, and the cost of being a woman seems pretty high.
Let’s take another look at the list of nonexempt items the Revenue Department mentions: shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, deodorant, condoms, baby powder, contact lens solution. Most of us can agree that these things — while important — are comforts rather than necessities. Living life without deodorant would be bad, but it wouldn’t be unbearable. Life without tampons, however, would be disruptive, impractical and cruel.
A woman’s period is not a disease or injury. But illness? The symptoms that usually come along at that time of the month — cramps, nausea, headache, fatigue — sound an awful lot like the symptoms of any flu or common cold. Tampons help ease some of that.
Besides, it’s not as if women have many other options beyond using a tampon or pad. Although women in Chicago could take the route of their sisters in the United Kingdom and stage a “free bleed” protest; let your imagination fill in the rest.
Luckily, the fix is easy: Just consider tampons and pads as medical devices. That’s what Burke and Hairston suggested.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified tampons as medical devices for decades. Five states already exempt tampons from their regular sales taxes, and another four are considering it. Illinois could be the next.
Having a period is hard enough — it doesn’t need to be expensive too.