Is 'Tampon Tax' discriminatory to women?

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 31, 2016

COLUMBUS – Four women from Cuyahoga County have filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Taxation, calling for an end to the “discriminatory” tax on tampons and pads.

The complaint, filed mid-March in the Ohio Court of Claims, states the sales tax on feminine hygiene products violates the equal protection clauses of both the United States and Ohio constitutions.

“A tax on tampons and pads is a tax on women,” the 15-page complaint reads. “It is discrimination. It is a vestige of another era, and now it is time to end it.”

Ohio does not impose a sales tax on products necessary to human health, such as prescription drugs and durable medical equipment, according to the state’s sales tax law.

However, feminine hygiene products are not exempted from the tax, despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies tampons and pads as “medical devices.”

Nationwide, 40 states, including Ohio, still tax tampons and pads.

The lawsuit estimates that 3 million Ohio women spend at least $70 a year on feminine hygiene products. With a 5.4 percent sales tax, the state collects approximately $11 million each year in sales tax revenue.

Sandra Kelly, a Cleveland lawyer involved in the lawsuit, said it has a twofold aspect: getting a refund for all the taxes paid in past years and ending the tax on feminine hygiene products.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status and a refund of at least $11 million per year to female consumers.

Democratic lawmakers Greta Johnson and Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, praised the lawsuit.

“At a time when Ohio women are fighting for equal pay, job opportunities and access to quality health care, we need to strike down and get rid of systemic economic inequalities that put females at a disadvantage from the day they are born in Ohio,” said the two lawmakers in a joint statement.

In 2015, Johnson and Sykes introduced a bill that would exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax.

“This is money that can be used for groceries, rent, childcare, whatever that woman or her family may need,” Johnson said in her written testimony.

The bill, HB 272, is yet to receive a second hearing in the House committee.

President Barack Obama has said earlier this year that he has no idea why states would tax feminine hygiene products as luxury items.

“I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed,” Obama said. 

The president added that it is “pretty sensible” for women in the 40 states where those sanitary products are taxed "to work to get those taxes removed." 

Joshua Lim is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at   or follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaLim93.