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The ‘tampon tax,’ explained

Most U.S. women pay a so-called "tampon tax," which refers to a tax on feminine products. A California assemblywoman has joined a global movement to eliminate the tax, which supporters call unfair. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/TWP, Photo: Chris Hondros/TWP)

The so-called "tampon tax," the issue Cristina Garcia now finds herself championing, isn't one she just stumbled upon; the California assemblywoman said she has been thinking about this "gender injustice" for awhile.

"I think a lot of women have at some point, thought about it, you know?" Garcia said this week.

Last year, Garcia kicked around the idea of introducing legislation that would make feminine hygiene products exempt from sales taxes in America's most populous state.

She didn't pull the trigger just then. But at a meeting in October, she heard from women in her district, and they talked a lot about their daily struggles and "how it all adds up," she said.

On average, according to Garcia's office, women in California pay about $7 per month for 40 years of tampons and sanitary napkins. Statewide, it adds up "over $20 million annually in taxes," according to a news release.

These products, her office said, "are a basic necessity" that should not be taxed; it's especially "unjust" since the tax only impacts women who are already suffering on the wrong end of the gender wage gap.

And so this week, on the first day of California's 2016 legislative session, Garcia announced Assembly Bill 1561, which proposed an end to the tampon tax.

"I just want people to realize this is not insignificant," said Garcia, a Democrat. "Especially if you're on a tight budget.

"And this is just the first step on a long discussion we need to be having," she added.

Tampons (and similar products) are tax-exempt in only a handful of states, including Maryland and New Jersey.

This map from Fusion shows which states tax tampons and which ones don't:

Fusion's Taryn Hillin explained:

For those uninitiated in the country’s tax codes (lucky you!), most states tax all “tangible personal property” but make exemptions for select “necessities” (non-luxury items). Things that are considered necessities usually include groceries, food stamp purchases, medical purchases (prescriptions, prosthetics, some over-the-counter drugs), clothes (in some states), and agriculture supplies. The lists of exemptions vary from state to state.

"Basically we are being taxed for being women," Garcia said in announcing the bill. "This is a step in the right direction to fix this gender injustice. Women have no choice but to buy these products, so the economic effect is only felt by woman [sic] and women of color are particularly hard hit by this tax. You can't just ignore your period, it's not like you can just ignore the constant flow."

[Why you should always buy the men’s version of almost anything]

It's an issue that's gaining more and more attention around the world.

Canada's tax on feminine hygiene products was lifted over summer, after thousands signed an online petition on the matter.

In Britain, a few women staged a "tampon tax" protest while on their periods last fall.

In California, Garcia jointly authored the new proposal with assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, a Republican, who told The Post in a phone interview: "Bottom line is, this bill is about tax relief for women."

"Government is taxing women for something that is totally out of their control," Chang said. "Feminine hygiene is not a choice and should not be taxed."

Chang has called the tax a form of "regulatory discrimination."

At this point, you might be trying to draw a comparison between a tampon and a product that is geared specifically for men to use, like a condom.

That's something that Chang said she'd noticed when reading the comments on stories about tampon taxes.

Those comparisons don't hold up, Chang said.

"I was thinking … that it's a biological function that women can't control," she said. "Which makes it different. I can't really see any other product specifically for men that is comparable."

"I think it's because [as] people, we've been taught to hide this, not talk about it," said Garcia, when asked why so few states have gotten rid of the tax. "The reality is, these institutions of power are male-dominated. It's either they're not thinking about it, or they're afraid to approach it."

Since the bill was introduced, Chang said, some men have told her that they've been waiting for a woman to carry the issue.

That wasn't something she had heard before it was introduced, she said, but it didn't surprise her.

"Talk to some men and they get a little uncomfortable talking about feminine hygiene," she said.

[Ban the bikini body]

The proposed legislation would add tampons and sanitary napkins to the list of products that are exempt from sales tax in the state of California, if it passes. Among the health-related items that are already tax-exempt there: medical ID tags, walkers and prescription medicine.

"If we can’t make them free we should at least make them more affordable," Garcia wrote on Facebook. "Having your period when [you're] poor means that once a month you have the added stress of finding a way to pay for these essentials."


Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify that California women spend an average of about $7 a month on the feminine hygiene products.