No Taxation for Menstruation: The Importance of Student Pharmacist Advocates

Pictured: Policy Postcards sent to Michigan Legislators from an event called “Galentine’s Day”

At the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, the APhA-ASP chapter’s inaugural Women’s Health Campaign hosted multiple events to educate and engage student pharmacists and the Ann Arbor community. While our Campaign focused on topics directly related to pharmacy, such as contraception and HPV vaccination, we have also taken the initiative to advocate for a crucial area of women’s health: menstruation.

Our American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) chapter, in collaboration with Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA), hosted an event called “Galentine’s Day” in February. This event gave student pharmacists the opportunity to purchase women’s health-related buttons to raise money for Ozone House, a shelter in Ann Arbor, MI for homeless adolescents. Our profits went toward the purchase of menstruation products for this vulnerable population, many of whom are just beginning their period. Additionally, student pharmacists wrote to their state representatives to support abolishing the “Tampon Tax” in Michigan and throughout the United States.

Pictured: Buttons from Fundraiser

With this in mind, let’s take some time to educate ourselves…

What is a “Tampon Tax”?

Currently, states have the authority to determine which products have sales tax and which are exempted. Products such as lip balm and prescription drugs, are defined as “medically necessary items” and are therefore not imposed with a sales tax. Unfortunately, feminine hygiene products are categorized as “luxury items” and taxed (for reference, Michigan sales tax is 6%). Hence the name “Tampon Tax”. This is an example of women being disproportionately affected within health care.

On average, a woman will menstruate over 2,500 days in her lifetime. This equates to almost seven years of using around 17,000 tampons and sanitary napkins. With a 6% sales tax in Michigan, costs greatly add up, especially for something that is a naturally occurring part of many women and should be considered medically necessary.

The topic of menstruation is historically taboo within society, but more recently has lessened over the years. Now, we have seen governments in the U.S. and worldwide start to legislate around this idea of “period equity”, by ensuring proper menstrual education and equal access to hygiene products. Currently, ten states have legislation explicitly exempting feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Nevada*.

*Note: Oregon, Montana, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Alaska do not have a sales tax on any product.

Why should we abolish the “Tampon Tax”?

Feminine hygiene products are not luxury items. These products are used monthly and women should not have unfair financial burdens imposed upon them to purchase what are considered a medical necessity. This is especially true for women with lower socioeconomic status and those without homes.

The main argument against abolishing the “Tampon Tax” is the yearly tax revenue from these products. Menstrual products contribute around $5 million dollars annually to the state of Michigan to be used in various social programs and school aid funds. While loss of revenue could be detrimental to these programs, legislators can creatively think of other ways to ensure that these state programs continue to have funding. Additionally, legislators in Michigan have stated this to be a smaller matter in comparison to other policy topics. But, with a tax affecting millions of women, this legislative act should be at the forefront. The important part to keep in mind is that these products should not have been taxed in the first place as they are medically necessary to such a large portion of the population.

The importance of student pharmacist advocacy!

With managing coursework, student organizations, internships, and self-care, it can be difficult for student pharmacists to stay up to date on legislative pharmacy updates. Though it may seem overwhelming, advocacy is anything that showcases pharmacy. This can range from hosting a “Pharmacy Day at the Capitol” to providing a blood pressure screening to a community member. These acts promote pharmacy practice. We are a generation of new future pharmacists where our profession is constantly innovating and expanding; we want to practice our license to its fullest potential. And we have the power to achieve these goals through pharmacy advocacy.

Menstruation and period products do not directly correlate with pharmacy. However, as health care professionals, it is important that we advocate for all of patient care!

Coming back to our “Galentine’s Day” event, students had the opportunity to write to their state and federal legislators supporting the abolition of the “Tampon Tax”. Overall, we raised around $200 for the Ozone House and were able to mail out 41 of our policy postcards to the following:

  • Eight Michigan State Senators
  • Eleven Michigan State House of Representatives
  • Two Michigan U.S. Senators
  • Two Michigan U.S. House of Representatives

Just two weeks after mailing out our postcards, I received a letter from Senator Jim Runestead (MI-15), who not only thanked me for sharing my thoughts and concerns of abolishing the “Tampon Tax”, but as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was going to meet to discuss the involved senate bills (currently SB123 and SB124) and finding resolutions for the women of Michigan.

Participation matters! Your voice matters! And most importantly…student advocacy is successful.

How do I get involved?

Whether you’re a pharmacist or student pharmacist, there are multiple ways to lend your voice to abolish the “Tampon Tax” and help others in need. Below are some resources to get started:

  • For student pharmacists, get involved with organizations like APhA-ASP that have committees dedicated to policy and women’s health!
  • Keep up to date with where Michigan’s SB123 and 124 are in the legislative process.
  • PERIOD. – A non-profit organization working to de-stigmatize periods, have accessible period products in public institutions, and abolish the “Tampon Tax”.
  • Helping Women Period – A non-profit organization based in Lansing, Michigan bringing free feminine hygiene products to homeless and at-risk women.
  • Ozone House – Continue our collaboration by helping those in need of menstruation products.

Together, we collectively say “No Taxation for Menstruation”!

References

  1. Censky, A. Legislators Try Again To Dismantle Michigan’s ‘Tampon Tax’ (2019). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  2. Klawiter, J. Michigan Tampon Tax (2017). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  3. Bryan, W. Bill introduced to remove Michigan’s ‘Tampon Tax’ (2019). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  4. Zraick, K. It’s Not Just the Tampon Tax: Why Periods Are Political (2018). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)
  5. Sagner, E. More States Move To End ‘Tampon Tax’ That’s Seen As Discriminating Against Women (2018). Accessed 3/18/2020: (link)

About the Author

Tina Bednarz, PharmD Candidate is a student at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy

Article reviewed by Breanna Failla, PharmD Candidate and Brooke Griffin PharmD, BCACP