A group of menstrual product makers announced on Wednesday that they have banded together to form “The Tampon Tax Back Coalition,” which they say is an effort to reimburse consumers the “unjust tax” on feminine hygiene products such as tampons, pads and menstrual cups.
Shoppers pay sales tax on menstruation products in 21 states, but women’s health advocates have argued for years that tampons, pads and other products should be sold free of taxes.
The eight brands in the partnership include August, Cora, Lola, The Honey Pot, Rael, Here We Flo, Saalt, and DIVA.
The group said shoppers who purchase products from any of these brands, in stores or online, can now submit their receipt to www.tampontaxback.com and be reimbursed the sales tax on their purchases.
“Text us a picture of your receipt and within 24 hours we will Venmo or Paypal you back the tampon tax you paid,” said Nadya Okamoto, co-Founder of August, who spearheaded the coalition. “Each brand will reimburse the customer of its product. August is coordinating this on the backend through a dedicated pool of funds from each brand.”
Although 19 states have removed the sales tax on period products in recent years, Okamoto said much more remains to be done to raise public awareness about the issue until there are no state that levy sales tax on these essential products.
Texas became the latest state to repeal tax on period products by passing a bill that went into effect September 1, 2023. On the retail side, CVS last October said it was reducing prices on its store-branded menstrual products nationwide and would pay the sales taxes on those products in a dozen states.
“Really what we are trying to say is that [period products] should fall into the category of medical necessities,” said Okamoto. “In a lot of the states where tampon tax is levied on period products, it is because specifically tampons and pads fall under the category of non essentials, so they are taxed with a sales tax.”
With her brand August, which she launched as a direct-to-consumer period care brand in 2021, customers weren’t charged a sales tax on their purchases wherever possible (there are seven states where it is illegal to absorb sales tax for customers), said Okamoto.
In March of this year, Target (TGT) started selling August products in more than 400 Target stores. “When we launched in Target, we lost the ability to cover the sales tax for our customers because we weren’t overseeing the point of purchase,” she said.
She came up with a workaround. People who bought August products in stores could submit their receipts directly to the company and would be reimbursed the sales tax, she said. The aim then was to try to get other brands to participate.
This became the model for the new coalition’s effort.
“We were already absorbing the tampon tax since we first launched in June 2021,” Okamoto said. “A lot of what we are doing now as of May 2023 is saying, hey, we can’t control whether or not you are charged a sales tax but we can reimburse you for it because we don’t believe this tax is justified. And now we can reimburse you for the August products you buy, and any other period care you get from any of the eight participating brands in the coalition.”
Is there a downside?
Katherine Loughead, senior policy analyst with Tax Foundation, a non-partisan tax research organization based in Washington DC, said there has been an uptick in sales tax exemptions on various products, including menstrual products over the past few years as policymakers try to help certain groups of consumers.
She also clarified what the tampon tax is.
“What we are talking about here is sales tax. There is no state that levies any sort of product-specific excise tax on tampons. So the idea of a tampon tax is kind of a misnomer,” said Loughead. “Normally, a tax that is on a specific good is named after that product. So the gas tax is just on gas, or the cigarette tax is just on cigarettes. The so-called tampon tax is just a sales tax that applies to most of the goods we buy.”
Loughead said consumers should also be aware that as different categories of goods get exempted from various sales taxes over time, one consequence of it is “states that have exempted more and more goods repeatedly have had to raise their sales tax rates over time to generate additional revenue.”
“So even if some consumers are initially better off from different exemptions, in the long run they are not really better off because they are paying a higher rate on all the other things that they buy,” she said.
The sales tax on period products is only one part of a multi-faceted challenge for consumers who need them, advocacy groups said.
“The sales tax disproportionately impacts families in poverty,” said Troy Moore who heads up external affairs for the National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit organization focused on helping individuals and families get access the basic necessities, including diapers and period supplies through its offshoot, The Alliace for Period Supplies.
According to nonprofit group Period, nearly one in four students in the United States struggle to buy period products and lower-income students and students of color (particularly Latinx students) are more impacted by lack of access than White and middle-income students.
“Period poverty is also a big issue,” said Moore. “Many can’t afford to buy these basic necessities and the ramifications of this are seen in how it affects school attendance, for example.”
Okamoto, who also co-founded Period when she was a highschooler in 2014, said she has an end goal to her more than decade-long fight for menstrual equity.
“The end goal Is that we take down the tampon tax. When I started this work, the tampon tax was in 40 states and now it’s in 21. It’s not outside the realm of reality for us to expect that the tax in remaining 21 states to come down,” she said.
“My larger hope is accessible period products in schools, shelters and prisons and free period care in workplaces and in schools,” Okamoto said.