If the headline of this editorial makes you uncomfortable, bear with us. Tampons, feminine care and female private parts in general are taboo subjects, but all three have recently taken the spotlight.
The Chicago City Council ended the luxury sales tax on tampons March 16, but the rest of the country is slow to follow suit. In the U.S., only five states have eliminated the “tampon tax,” and Illinois isn’t one of them. It’s important to recognize that this problem is not just an economic one, however. Tampons pose some serious health and environmental concerns as well.
Quick side note: For the gentlemen of Loyola — all 35 percent you — maybe do a quick Internet search to learn how tampons and menstrual cycles work. We know you’re intelligent adults, but some of you could have slept through your high school health class, and your female friends probably aren’t giving you all the details about their special times of the month.
Regardless of whether you’re male or female, though, you should care about the tampon issue. It poses questions not only about the economy but also about our environment and women’s health.
Tampons and other feminine care products are classified in all but five states as a luxury rather than a necessity. As “luxury” items, they are subject to sales tax, making them cost more — possibly out of financial reach for low-income women. For example, a tampon box priced at $5.39 would cost about $6.06 with the luxury tax. This 67-cent difference would save $8 annually, if a woman had 12 periods a year. That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up over a lifetime. And for low-income women, that $8 would be better spent buying a meal or other necessities.
Fortunately, the movement to repeal the luxury tax on menstrual products has gained national attention and is picking up steam — and to that we say, “About time!” But this initiative needs to be spread across the country. Only Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland recognize tampons as medical necessities, but the other 45 states should jump on board the affordable tampon ship.
Eliminating this tax is not only important for driving down costs, but it’s also a symbolic show of support to women, as tampons, pads and similar products will be correctly labeled as a necessity, rather than a luxury. Thus, the importance of women’s health would be labeled as a necessity.
In most states, feminine care products are grouped with cosmetics. Due to this, the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to tell customers what’s in their products.
In numerous studies, dioxin — a harmful chemical that the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly advises to be reduced in public exposure — has been found in tampons. The WHO is also investigating the links between dioxin and certain types of cancer, diabetes and immune and nervous systems impairment.
But dioxins are everywhere; they’re mostly found in our meat and dairy products. Why should we care if women are exposed a little more to the chemicals during their monthly flow? Because vaginal tissues are more permeable than the rest of a woman’s skin, making them vulnerable to any chemicals and irritants.
If you need another example, then think of the “vodka tampon” experiments. Women have soaked their tampons in vodka and then inserted them into their vaginas to get very drunk, very fast. They do this because the vaginal area has a more direct route to the bloodstream.
It’s evident, therefore, that women need to be careful about what they put in their vaginas — regardless of whether it’s vodka, dioxin or anything else.
Also, scientific studies have found pesticide residue on various tampon brands. Tampons are made of cotton, and cotton is a plant. And like most plants that come to the U.S., they’re sprayed with pesticides. The effects of pesticides on tampons have been linked to infertility and neurological dysfunction. But the cherry on top is that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require companies to test for harmful chemicals — it merely recommends that pesticides not be used. That seems about as effective as recommending that hormonal teenagers practice abstinence.
The U.S. government has done little to address these concerns. Since 1999, Congress has turned down five versions of the Robin Danielson Act, which proposes more regulated and substantial research on tampons, rather than leaving the research up to manufacturers (who aren’t obligated to show you their research).
Since the U.S. government has historically been male-dominated, the disregard for the the Robin Danielson Act can’t help but feel like a disregard of women. For almost 20 years, this issue has been brought to government attention and continually shut down. The health of women and their most sensitive body parts has been deemed unimportant.
Most pads and tampons are made with a type of cotton called rayon cotton, and they can take almost centuries to decompose in a landfill, especially if they’re wrapped in plastic.
There are alternate options, of course, for the environmentally conscious woman, such as silicone menstrual cups, reusable cups and organic cotton tampons. But as with most organic products, they’re part of a niche market that has higher costs due to low demand. As a result, most women buy the cheaper, plastic- or cardboard-wrapped tampons that may be easy on the wallet but hard on the environment.
In reality, tampon waste doesn’t add up to a significant portion of what’s in our landfills. There’s a lot of waste Americans are throwing away, and the lack of environmentally friendly tampons is reflective of our environmental apathy. But nonetheless, women — specifically women with smaller budgets — will most likely opt for the cheaper, less eco-friendly tampons that will contribute to our global waste.
Who knew tampons could be such a problem? Don’t get us wrong — tampons are a major step up compared to other methods. According to a history of tampons published by The Atlantic, ancient Roman women fashioned tampons out of wool, while Indonesian women used vegetable fiber. In some parts of Africa, women used rolls of grass. And even less than a century ago, women would either stay out of the public eye during their periods or wear large, clunky pads.
Ultimately, the feminine care industry’s evolution is reflective of the feminist evolution. There’s been extensive progress, but we should not settle for how things stand now. Women’s health and environmental issues are in question. Above all, there’s no reason that tampons should be considered luxury items or that only five U.S. states have eliminated the tampon tax.
Nearly 70 percent of U.S. women use tampons, according to a Harvard study. It’s past time to stand up to current tampon standards so that the health and safety of women is ensured — not passed off as unessential.