Why this lawsuit and these lawmakers are taking aim at Ohio’s ‘Pink Tax’
What is the “Pink Tax?”
“Pink Tax” sometimes refers to the higher price women pay for items that are branded for women but essentially the same as men’s items. For instance, pink razors. Upworthy recently reported that according to a 2015 study conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, women pay more 42% of the time for the same products men buy. While critics say several women’s products are developed differently — i.e. – not just made pink for marketing purposes — and others suggest women just buy the cheaper male version of things, the reality in states like Ohio is harder to dismiss. Sometimes called the “Tampon Tax,” only women are subject to the tax on feminine hygiene products, which are considered luxury items by the state despite being classified by the FDA as medically necessary products.
Why is it in the news?
Last May, Rep. Greta Johnson and Rep. Emilia Sykes, who both represent Akron — woot! woot! — tried to end the tax by introducing HB 272, which would end sales taxes on essential feminine hygiene products including tampons, liners, cups, napkins and other forms of feminine hygiene in connection with the menstrual cycle. However, in a climate where Planned Parenthood has been defunded, HB 272 hasn’t gotten far in the male-dominated and Republican-controlled state legislature, but the issue isn’t dead yet. Four Cleveland-area women have filed a class action lawsuit to end the “Tampon Tax” and refund $66 million to female consumers in Ohio.
Isn’t it just a few cents here and there?
Johnson says, “Keep in mind women will make these purchases every month for 30 years — sometimes up to 40 years — you have to multiply that times ‘a few cents’.” Plus, she notes, that number climbs if you have daughters. Then put it all in context with women making, on average, 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work. Financials aside, consider that the legislature recently passed exemptions for gold bullion and YMCA memberships — but not memberships to other religious organizations like the Jewish Community Center. And of course, food at grocery stores is tax-exempt, which includes the likes of Mountain Dew, Hostess Cupcakes and Pork Rinds.
Who does this really hurt?
Low-income women. Homeless women, especially. If an item isn’t tax exempt then it can’t be purchased with public assistance. “If you are food insecure, you’re tampon insecure,” Johnson says. When women live in food insecurity, they are more likely to choose unhealthy alternatives to commercial feminine hygiene products, sacrificing their health instead of putting their families at further risk of going without a meal. That can lead to toxic shock syndrome, which can cause infertility or even death.
Why hasn’t the bill been passed yet?
“It is uncomfortable for men to talk about — it’s uncomfortable for many women, too,” Johnson says. That silence contributes to the problem, but it certainly doesn’t help that HB 272 was proposed by two female Democratic representatives. While the lawsuit works its way through the courts and lawmakers like Johnson and Sykes try to advance the conversation, there’s still hope for HB 272, if it gets a second hearing by the Ways and Means Committee.
(Featured photo courtesy of Representative Emilia Strong Sykes)