European Union member states will now be able to choose whether they want to subject women to a tax on their tampons and sanitary pads.
Spurred by the UK, the EU voted on Mar. 17 to allow member states to have more flexibility on reducing the value added tax (VAT) on goods—with a special provision to get rid of the VAT on sanitary products, nicknamed the “tampon tax” when applied to female hygiene products.
EU member states apply a VAT of between 17% to 25% (pdf, p.3) to most goods, with a reduced VAT for items considered “necessary,” such as medicines and, in certain states (including the UK), sanitary products. Until now, the UK and any other state willing to give female hygiene products (along with other sanitary products) an exemption on VAT had to get the EU’s permission in order to do so. When it’s passed into law, however, this week’s resolution—unanimously adopted by 28 country leaders—will allow member states to have more flexibility on imposing reduced VAT on goods, with a specific provision allowing for zero tax “on option for sanitary products.”
Practically, this means that it will be up to EU member states to decide how much VAT they want to impose on sanitary products (including feminine hygiene products), if any—not that they will be forced to impose zero VAT.
The UK will likely be leading the pack in choosing not to impose a tampon tax, a measure that had previously been promised by its government. The Labor party proposal found widespread support in the UK, with Chancellor George Osborne saying the government had “heard people’s anger over paying the tampon tax loud and clear.”
The tampon tax has generated heated debate in the UK amongst supporters both for and against the proposed exist of Britain from the EU. While the euro-skeptics describe it as a perfect example of the relatively small decisions the UK government is forced to negotiate with the EU, those in favor of remaining in the EU highlighted the approved resolution as promising for future negotiations.
It’s unclear which other member states will scrap the tax. Greece, for instance, recently raised the tax on female hygiene products in order to meet EU austerity requirements. In Italy, a January proposal to reduce the “tampon tax” from 22% to 4% was met with a rather immature fixation on the tax’s nickname (link in Italian).
Currently, VAT is levied on feminine hygiene products in most of the world, with the exception of a handful of countries, including Ireland, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Tanzania, Lebanon and Kenya, where there is also no import tax on sanitary products.
Only five states in the US do not impose a tampon tax. An all-male panel in Utah recently rejected a motion to scrap the tax, while earlier this month, a law suit was filed in New York challenging the state’s tampon tax as as unconstitutional.
US president Barack Obama recently said he’s opposed to the practice of taxing these products as as non-essential items. “I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items,” Obama said. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”