For the more than 11 million people in this country who face period poverty, being able to afford necessary menstrual hygiene products like tampons, pads, or panty liners every month is tough enough, as is. But the addition of sales tax still levied by 21 states on such period-care necessities only adds insult to injury. It’s for this reason that gender-inclusive and sustainable period-care brand August has joined hands with seven other menstrual hygiene brands—Cora, LOLA, The Honey Pot, Rael, Here We Flo, Saalt, and DIVA—to reimburse their customers for any and all state taxes they pay when purchasing their period products online or in stores.
These eight period-care brands make up the new Tampon Tax Back Coalition, which launches on October 11, in honor of International Day of the Girl. Starting on this day, customers can simply visit tampontaxback.com and submit a receipt showing their purchase of a menstrual product from one of these brands as well as the sales tax they were charged, and they’ll be refunded for the tax via Venmo within two business days.
The idea behind the coalition is as much to spare people from having to pay a tax on period-care products right now as it is to raise awareness for why these taxes should be abolished nationwide: While other medical products like contact lenses and over-the-counter medications are considered necessities and exempted from taxes in most states, menstrual items are classified as “luxury” or “nonessential” goods in the 21 states that still tax them—despite the fact that having (and managing) a period is unavoidable for anyone with a uterus.
“The only reason I can suspect for why [tampons] are still being labeled as luxury or nonessential goods is because the people who made these legal decisions did not get periods themselves.” —Nadya Okamoto, co-founder and CEO of August
“The only reason I can suspect for why [tampons] are still being labeled this way is because the people who made these legal decisions did not get periods themselves,” says August’s co-founder and CEO Nadya Okamoto, who’s been advocating for menstrual equity for nearly a decade after launching the global nonprofit PERIOD. in 2014 to provide period-care essentials to those in need.
In recent years, as part of a growing movement against period poverty, 19 states have removed the sales tax from period-care products (often called the “tampon tax”), citing its discriminatory nature, with Texas being the latest to do so with a bill that went into effect in September. Last year, CVS also dropped the price of its own menstrual products and began absorbing the sales tax for these products in 12 states.
While Okamoto implemented a system in May for refunding August customers for any tax they paid when purchasing products, the new Tampon Tax Back Coalition extends the impact across competitor brands.
Why period inequity is a physical and mental health issue
To grasp what it’s like to live with period poverty and have limited access to tampons or pads, consider an apt metaphor: living without access to toilet paper for about a week every month. No matter where you are when nature calls during this week—whether it be a public restroom, a friend’s apartment, or your own home—you have to quickly come up with a way to clean yourself without using TP. Sure, you figure out work-arounds (paper towels are a thing, after all), but the constant uncertainty of when and where you’ll have to relieve yourself sans toilet paper throughout that week each month fills you with anxiety and shame.
In this way, lacking access to period-care products can have an effect extending far beyond the physical implications of not being able to mitigate menstrual bleeding. Indeed, a 2020 survey of nearly 500 college-attending menstruators revealed a link between period poverty and poor mental health: Compared to the subjects who had never experienced period poverty, subjects who could not afford or access period-care products were more likely to exhibit signs of moderate to severe depression.
“There’s a big dignity component to it,” says Okamoto. “Imagine if you have your period [and you can’t afford period-care products]. You’re on your heaviest day of your period, and you don’t have extra underwear, you don’t have a spare pair of pants, you don’t have immediate access to a shower or a bathroom. And at the same time, you’re trying to go about your day, or for many people, you’re trying to find a job.”
That just goes to show how a lack of access to menstrual products can also snowball into more financial woes. “There’s a significant number of women and girls that can’t go to school or go to work to support their families because they can’t leave their house when they get their periods,” says Amy Fischer, CEO of Lola. “And that, in and of itself, is a tragedy.”
For Fischer, the decision to join forces with Okamoto for the Tampon Tax Back Coalition was a no-brainer. Since Lola’s launch in 2014, the organic menstrual hygiene and sexual health brand has partnered with organizations like I Support the Girls to donate millions of period-care products to those who can’t afford them.
“We commit a certain portion of our budget every year to be able to support these organizations because even if the tampon tax is eradicated, there will still be women who can’t afford them,” says Fischer. “The goal is to make sure that everyone who needs a period-care product has access to a period-care product when they need it.”
Both Fischer and Okamoto hope that the Tampon Tax Back Coalition inspires other menstrual industry leaders to follow suit in reimbursing their customers for unjust taxes, as well. Capitalism naturally inspires competition among similar businesses, but according to Fischer, business partnerships like these can be a valuable tool for combating social justice issues like period inequity that affect customers across an industry.