Starting July 1, Canada will exempt products “marketed exclusively for feminine hygiene purposes” from the federal government’s 5% goods and services tax (GST). Members of Canada’s Parliament had lobbied Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for years to abolish what they deemed an unfair “tampon tax” that discriminated against women. On May 25, the government responded by presenting a motion to Parliament to formally exclude “sanitary napkins, tampons, sanitary belts, menstrual cups or other similar products” from the GST. Parliament unanimously approved the motion on June 1. Subsequently, at least one Canadian province, Newfoundland and Labrador, announced plans to exempt feminine hygiene products from its provincial sales tax, which is currently 8% and scheduled to rise to 10% next year.
According to a June 3 article by Taryn Hillin for the website Fusion, only five U.S. states – Maryland,Massachusetts>, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey – specifically exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax. Although most states exempt “necessities” such as toiletry and health care items from sales tax, the majority do not classify tampons as such. But as Hillin observed, “feminine hygiene products are not a choice; they’re a required part of being a woman.”
Canada’s recent action may spur some U.S. states to reconsider their own “tampon taxes.” For instance, on May 21, New York Assemblyman David I. Weprin introduced a bill to exempt all feminine hygiene products from sales tax, which is as high as 8.875% in some parts of the state. It is unlikely, however, the full legislature will act upon the bill before the scheduled end of its session later this month.
The movement to abolish the “tampon tax” has also spread outside of North America. Joe Hockey, the Treasurer for Australia’s federal government, said in a May 25 interview he would support exempting feminine hygiene products from the country’s 10% goods and services tax. But Hockey’s boss, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, later said his government had no plans to push for an exemption at this time, adding GST rules are largely determined by the individual Australian states.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron said last April he would support exempting feminine hygiene products from the country’s goods and services tax, but his government could not do so unilaterally because of European Union regulations, which sets a minimum 5% tax on “sanitary products.”
S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog PrivyCouncil.info
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