On Wednesday, eight menstrual care companies, including August, The Honey Pot and Diva announced a joint-venture, The Tampon Tax Back Coalition, calling for pads, tampons and menstrual cups to be made exempt from sales taxes, much like groceries and many drugs. The brands argue that, since these items are necessities, the taxes represent an unjust markup.
Over 20 states tax menstrual products in some fashion. That number has been dropping, thanks to a long campaign by activists to convince lawmakers that these items are not discretionary purchases. In September, Texas became the 24th state to drop its tampon tax. The pharmacy chain CVS covers the sales tax in 12 states and slashed the prices of its menstrual products by 25 percent last year. Some countries have abolished the tax nationwide, including Canada and most recently, the UK.
The Tampon Tax Back Coalition marks the latest attempt by period care brands to advocate for and act on issues their consumers care about. The Coalition’s customers will be reimbursed in states that charge a sales tax on menstrual products, such as Arizona, Wisconsin and Tennessee, for at least six months.
“It is our responsibility to stand up for our customer in every way we possibly can,” said Nick Jain, co-founder of August.
Companies have taken on political causes of all sorts in recent years, from climate change to racial injustice and abortion, with a surge in corporate activism coming amid the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Companies like Sephora have updated their aisles to include more Black-owned brands via the 15 percent pledge; Ulta Beauty, Coty and The Estée Lauder Companies are among those that pledged to pay for travel expenses associated with reproductive health services following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
But as the newsworthiness of these issues have waned, companies have spoken up less. If period care brands are hoping to win points with shoppers, they will need to show they support their chosen causes after the spotlight has moved on. Being a brand that stands behind a political issue today requires more than clever marketing and donating to a well-known non-profit organisation.
“Young people care about diversity, equity and inclusion not just in the sense that they see people who look like them in the ads, but about whether the brands are contributing to a more equitable society,” said Sarah Willersdorf, global head of luxury at Boston Consulting Group.
Selling More Than A Product
The tampon tax crusade is the latest sign of changing politics in the menstrual care aisle.
Until recently, these companies as a group weren’t seen as particularly progressive. Their critics accuse the biggest of contributing to the stigma surrounding periods by using euphemisms to refer to menstruation and by assuming all menstruators identify as women. Period products from some of the most popular brands are often made from non-recyclable materials like plastic.
Newer labels like The Honey Pot and August have positioned themselves as cleaner, more sustainable and inclusive. They hope to further capture the attention of Gen-Z shoppers through advocacy.
But advocating for a sociopolitical issue can be a double-edged sword. In November 2022, Tampax faced backlash from conservatives after gifting tampons to transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, who then gave away the products. Calls to #BoycottTampax flooded social media sites and the brand soon issued a statement distancing itself from Mulvaney.
Menstrual care brands say their fight for equity won’t end with The Tampon Tax Back Coalition (period company Rael supports Black-led menstrual education forum Happy Period and August has lobbied against a Florida law restricting how students can discuss human sexuality, dubbed the “Don’t Say Period” bill), but customers are more sceptical about lofty corporate promises.
“Menstrual care isn’t a luxury, and it isn’t a choice,” said Beatrice Dixon, founder and chief executive of The Honey Pot. “Today, we want to mobilise our audience around this tax. Tomorrow, we want to energise them to vote to change the system.”
Antoilyn Nguyen, a student at the University of Pennsylvania and a shopper of period care brand Cora, said she wants to see big brands like Always and Tampax brought into the coalition.
“Businesses have a lot of sway when it comes to legislation. I’d want to see them try to affect [change] through lobbying or bringing established brands into the Coalition,” Nguyen said. “Gestures like these have a lot of potential. But if these brands don’t follow through, all they have is potential.”