Debate Forum: 11/29

Tax. Period.

Should pads and tampons be taxed?

By Sarah Sidlow

Fun fact: women on average spend more than 2,000 days on their period in a lifetime. Here’s another: women on average spend at least $70 every year on menstrual products like tampons and pads. Not having fun yet?

How about a trio of representatives suing the State of Ohio for the taxation of menstrual products—called the “Pink Tax”—and seeking to refund at least $66 million to female consumers across Ohio?

Democratic State Reps. Greta Johnson, Emilia Sykes, and Kevin Boyce are doing just that, having introduced a bill (HB 272) that aims to kill the “Pink Tax” in the Buckeye State.

They argue that a tax on tampons is essentially a tax on women. The $70 spent on menstrual products a year equals roughly $4 in taxes per woman annually. The lawsuit claims the Ohio Department of Taxation makes $11 million on those taxes every year—taxes the suit’s authors claim discriminate against women and violate the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions.

Ohio does not tax “products necessary to human health such as prescription drugs and durable medical equipment.” And while the FDA labels feminine hygiene products “medical devices,” many states do not exempt them from taxes.

Johnson, Sykes, and Boyce are hoping to change that.

Their argument is simple: tampons are not a luxury item. Women need these products every month. For their health. Based on 3 million women spending $70 each a year on period-related products, plus the state’s 5.4 percent share of the sales tax, the state can gain about $11 million annually on women having periods. Local sales taxes can add on up to 3.35 percent more. The suit’s authors are looking for the return of taxes collected over the last six years to female consumers.

“Women only earn 77 percent compared to their male counterparts in Ohio but are forced to spend a significant amount of their wages on these essential healthcare products,” Sykes said in a news release. “The ‘Pink Tax’ is an additional burden placed on women that intensifies the gender wage gap and makes preventative healthcare for women more expensive.”

Ohio wouldn’t be the first state to dump the tax on this stuff—Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have all gotten rid of the tax in recent years, with Connecticut, New York, and Illinois following suit this year. So has Canada.

President Barack Obama objected to the tampon tax, saying, “I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

And while there doesn’t seem to be a rash of folks opposed to dropping the “Pink Tax,” there are plenty who say the issue ignores the nuances and inconsistencies of state tax codes. In order for all women to stop paying a tax on feminine hygiene products, every state in the union would have to eliminate the tax, they say—something that simply isn’t likely. And it isn’t like tampons are taxed specifically, they argue, like alcohol or tobacco; they’re just taxed like anything else because, well, we tax stuff.

Most state definitions of medical equipment go something like this: “intended for use, internally or externally, in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of illnesses or diseases in human beings.” Since having a period isn’t an illness, tampons and pads aren’t exempt from sales tax.

Plus, opponents argue, how would we really know if women are the sole purchasers of those products? There could be plenty of husbands, fathers, and boyfriends unabashedly shelling out cash for tampons and pads, wondering where their refund check is.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Bunch of bloody rubbish

By Tim Walker

Menstruation and taxation: two words which are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. One is a subject I’m familiar with as a law-abiding U.S. citizen; the other is one that I, as a 50-year-old married man, know a thing or two about but will probably never be able to truly relate to.

I’ve read that in ancient cultures, women were considered taboo, or unclean, and dangerously powerful during those days each month when they were menstruating. The blood, the moon, fertility, life cycles, the planting of crops—all became bound together in this mythical idea of the goddess and her relation to all women and their ability to create life. Many cultures reacted shamefully, however, banishing their womenfolk during those times of the month, until the men decided that their mystical power had abated and it was safe to have them around to make the sandwiches again.

In these modern, more enlightened times, men no longer banish their wives when they’re having their period—instead, we just spend a little more time in the garage. But menstruation is a subject that is still rarely discussed in polite company, and this can result in situations that aren’t much better than those ancient times. Namely, there’s this—why are women being charged a sales tax for personal hygiene items that they, as women, are required to use? The very idea of this smacks of a sexist, male-dominated ideology.

One lawmaker from Wisconsin says the taboo around menstruation that prevents women from openly talking about their periods may also explain why women are being forced by many states to pay extra to manage those periods. Representative Melissa Sargent, a Democrat from Madison, recently sponsored a bill that calls for Wisconsin state lawmakers to exempt feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax, which makes perfect sense. More than a year ago, in June 2015, a trio of Ohio lawmakers announced a similarly sensible proposal to eliminate the sales tax the state charges on feminine care products. Democratic Ohio State Representatives Greta Johnson, Emilia Sykes, and Kevin Boyce introduced House Bill 272, a proposal which sought to slash the so-called “Pink Tax” on tampons and menstrual pads in the Buckeye state.

“Women only earn 77 percent compared to their male counterparts in Ohio, but are forced to spend a significant amount of their wages on these essential healthcare products,” Sykes said in a press release. “The ‘Pink Tax’ is an additional burden placed on women that intensifies the gender wage gap and makes preventative healthcare for women more expensive.” Common sense, it seems, would dictate that there should be no sales tax charged on these essential personal hygiene items, and Ohio and Wisconsin are not the only states that have faced similar legislative motions. Five new bills have been introduced this year alone, mostly by female lawmakers, and all five are now at various stages of the legislative process. Five states have already dropped the tax, including Minnesota in 1981, Pennsylvania in 1991, and New Jersey in 2005.

“Women’s health has been misunderstood and neglected throughout history,” Rep. Sargent told NPR recently. “Some women are ashamed of their period,” she said, adding that she feels the reluctance to talk about it has prevented the issue from gaining more momentum in state legislatures. Sargent is part of a nationwide movement to remove the sales taxes on tampons and pads, taxes that advocates feel penalize women simply for their very biology.

Alongside Wisconsin and Ohio, lawmakers in Illinois, Utah, California, New York, Michigan, and Connecticut have proposed similar legislation to eliminate the tax that they say unfairly treats periods as a “disease” or “illness,” or considers the products to be “luxury” items. The bill in Utah and California was rejected, while New York, Connecticut, and Illinois passed it. In Michigan, a bill is in the state’s tax policy committee.

Why is this even an issue? Healthy women of child-bearing age have NO option other than to purchase these items—tampons and sanitary napkins are not, in any way, luxuries. They are necessities, plain and simple, and charging a sales tax to half of our population for products which they require to enjoy good health and a decent quality of life is, plain and simply, wrong.

In 1973, when Stephen King was 26, he started writing what he thought would be a long story about a maladjusted young girl with psychokinetic abilities. Early on, he crafted a scene in which the young girl—Carrie White—starts her first period while in the shower of the girl’s locker room at her high school. Horrified, she is convinced she’s bleeding to death and reaches out to her classmates for help. The girls—bullies, all of them—begin pelting her with sanitary napkins, chanting “Plug it up! Plug it up!”

Upon rereading what he’d wrote, King threw the story in the trash, reasoning that he wasn’t female, had never experienced a menstrual period, and had no idea what the hell he was talking about. His wife, Tabitha, in a move that changed literary history, fished the story out of his office trash can and told her husband he was on to something. She convinced him to keep writing. The rest is history.

Women, it seems, have the inside track on certain subjects. Maybe we, like Stephen King, just need to listen to them.

 

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer
Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Pretty rainbow of taxes

By Brad Sarchet

Should feminine hygiene products be exempt from taxation? Absolutely not. Is taxing feminine hygiene products essentially a “tax on women?” Please. The very notion is playing the sexism card to a ridiculous extreme. This is not a tax on women. This is a tax on products that happen to be used by women, and if we are going to eliminate taxes on health care products based solely on who uses them, then we will be left with, virtually, no items to tax. This may not be a bad idea, but it’s not the point of this issue. This is an issue of eliminating a product tax based only on the gender of its users, which should strike even women as unjustifiable gender bias.

As a pre-argument aside, let’s talk terms. As with most controversial issues, undefined terms and phrases hinder this discussion and result in much of the confusion of the issue. As mentioned in the debate center, undefined phrases in this debate abound, including “products necessary for human health,” “medical devices,” and products for the “treatment, or prevention of illness or disease in human beings.” So, let’s answer some questions before we get started. Do feminine hygiene products count as “necessary of human health?” Obviously not since our species survived long before they existed, and many women continue to survive without them. Do feminine hygiene products count as “medical devices?” Like a cane, wheelchair, or CPAP? No. Are they not much more similar to Band-Aids or gauze pads? Finally, are they used for the treatment or prevention of a human illness or disease? Try asking any woman if having her period indicates that she has a disease, and you’ll have your answer. So, feminine hygiene products apparently do not meet any of the criteria for non-taxed health care items. It seems this would end the argument, but apparently it does not.

So, back to my two main arguments against tax exceptions for feminine hygiene products.

Argument No. 1: Removing a tax from a product because it is used exclusively by women is just as sexist as adding a tax to a product for the same reason. Removing the “Pink Tax” is utterly and offensively sexist. And not only is “because I’m a woman” an unjustifiable reason for removing the tax, this position also ignores a slope that is so slippery it is unmanageable.

If three of our Ohio State Representatives wish to remove taxes from products based on the fact that they are used exclusively by women, then why are these representatives of the people not putting forward the same argument for products used exclusively by men? Or products to be used by infants only? Or products used only by the elderly? Or products used only by the incontinent? To consider removing the “Pink Tax” because it’s a “tax against women” but to not consider removing similar taxes that target other groups is beyond biased. Shame on those representatives for supporting such a motion.

To put a lighter spin on the issue, if we remove “Pink Taxes,” then to be fair, we should also remove “Blue Taxes.” Let’s see… a vast majority of women don’t have beards, so beard hygiene products should not be taxed. Similar to feminine hygiene products, beard products are used by only one gender and are not necessary for human health or used to treat a disease. Women do not have a prostate gland, so items to help treat prostate problems should not be taxed. I’m not positive, but I believe women get jock itch, so… Along these lines, perhaps we should remove “Gray Taxes” on products designed for the elderly but not the young. And we should eliminate “Yellow Taxes” on products used by those who are incontinent. And perhaps “Baby Taxes” (I couldn’t think of a good color) on products designed for infants only. This could go on and on, ad nauseam. My point is that ALL products designed for a particular health “issue” necessarily target certain consumers and not others, so the “Pink Tax” argument could be made for nearly every health care product.

Argument No. 2: Removing a tax is one thing, but attempting to fairly distribute a $66 million refund is simply not possible.

First, how do the “refunders” determine who deserves a refund? How can anyone determine who actually uses feminine hygiene products, who used them in the past (and in what quantity), and who actually purchased them and deserves their cash back? Regarding No. 1 above, I’m sure some readers are wondering, “How is determining who uses feminine hygiene products a problem? Women use them, of course.” But not so fast. Let’s take products used during menstruation, e.g., tampons, as an example. Clearly not all women menstruate. I don’t know the numbers here, but certainly a large percentage of females do not menstruate. This includes girls before their first period, as well as most post-menopausal women. This also includes an unknown group of women who are in the “appropriate” age range, but do not menstruate for a large variety of physiological reasons (only one of which is a hysterectomy). And now with the continuous birth control pill, women can choose to menstruate two or three times a year, or not at all. So, determining which women at any given time are using various feminine hygiene products is really not feasible. We can’t survey every woman every month to determine who gets a refund and how much they deserve. And the same problem exists if we wish to determine previous use of these products to reach our refund total. And finally, even if we could determine who uses these products, how are we to determine who paid for them and should receive the refund? I’m sure no one believes that only women pay for these products. It may be called a “Pink Tax,” but I know for a fact that there are many fathers and husbands who pay for these products and don’t see it as a “pink” tax at all.

 

Brad Sarchet, Ph.D., has advanced degrees in philosophy and physiology and is currently a biology professor at a local university. He is interested in the philosophy of science and animal physiology. He’s also an old hippy and Dead Head. Reach him at BradSarchet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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