The battle over Planned Parenthood funding rages on atop Capitol Hill, with people wondering how so many political leaders could care so little about women’s right to proper sexual and reproductive health. But should we really be so surprised? For decades, government agencies have failed to acknowledge women’s need for proper care, and no single product exemplifies this disregard like the tampon.
The modern tampon as we know it was patented in Dr. Earle Hass in 1931 and over the next few decades would become the most popular items for women during their periods, with higher usage than even the traditional pad. Yet from their inception, government agencies didn’t recognize them as a necessity.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) first labeled them “cosmetics” instead of “medical devices,” meaning they were exempt from the testing and market approval other medical devices, like toothbrushes, received. Then came Rely tampons, created before the FDA re-categorized tampons as medical devices. The ingredients within the Rely tampons were found to be the cause of several Toxic Shock Syndrome deaths in the late 1970s, leading to the labels you find today on every modern box warning against TSS.
In 1982 the family of Patricia Kehm, a woman who had died of Toxic Shock Syndrome via Rely tampons, won a lawsuit against their maker, Proctor and Gamble, who paid $300,000 in compensatory damages. What should have been a victory for women’s health care equality, was still even then belittled, with the lawyer for the case stating how it was, “the highest verdict in Iowa’s history for the death of a housewife.”
Not shockingly, today tampons are still not seen as integral to women’s health. Considered a “non-essential,” tampons are subjected to a sales tax of between 4-9% in all but five states, forcing women to pay more for a product needed for their own health. Yet in states like New York, condoms are not charged sales tax.
Movements have begun across the nation, pushing legislators to waive taxes on hygiene products. One such initiative is California’s #AxethePinkTax, a petition that has garnered over 8,000 signatures.
And the U.S. is not the only country to rally against this systemic inequality. All over the world, movements have started to bring light to the issue and push for its removal. One of the most active campaigns against the tampon tax has come out of Australia’s #BloodyOutrage campaign,, which rallies against the 10% tax placed on tampons.
Australia is not alone in its outrage. In the United Kingdom, where the tampon is labeled as a “non-essential luxury item,” rallies were held against the tampon tax in April. Several other countries throughout Europe have taxes on tampons that reach well over 20%.
The tampon’s history reflects the decades that our government has regarded menstrual health as non-essential. It is time not only for the tampon tax to be removed, but also time for Congress to acknowledge every woman’s right to safe and affordable sexual and reproductive health.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.