The ‘tampon tax’: an unconstitutional loss to American consumers

headshot of NCL LifeSmarts intern Alexa

By NCL LifeSmarts intern Elaina Pevide

Bingo supplies in Missouri, tattoos in Georgia, cotton candy in Iowa, gun club membership in Wisconsin; what do these products and services have in common? They are all treated as tax-exempt by states that still put a tax on tampons.

Sales taxes on menstrual products, often referred to as “tampon taxes”, are still present in 35 states. Tampon taxes are cited as a major contributor to the “pink tax”, the heightened cost of products and services marketed toward women. For example, a purple can of sweet-smelling shaving cream for women will almost always cost more than its male counterpart across the aisle. This trend translates across industries. A 2015 study from the Joint Economic Committee found that women pay more 42 percent of the time for products from pink pens to dry cleaning. These pricier goods and services serve no benefit to the consumer and have no apparent improvement in function or quality. The pink tax cuts into women’s spending power and takes advantage of consumers simply on the basis of gender.

Tampon taxes and the pink tax have both been making waves recently as pressing feminist issues. While markups on products for women are unjust, activists are targeting the tampon tax as priority number one. Menstrual products, they argue, are necessities and states have the power to cut sales taxes on them by labeling them as such. States give tax exemptions to other items– like bingo supplies, tattoos, and cotton candy–that are far less vital to the health and success of consumers. Today, five states do not have sales taxes on any products, five states have always given hygiene products tax-exemption status, and five states have successfully fought to eliminate the tampon tax. Currently, 35 states remain with 32 having tried–and failed–to pass legislation on the matter.

States resistance to eliminate the tampon tax, typically for fiscal reasons, is at odds with the interests and demands of consumers. A survey of 2,000 women, conducted on behalf of menstrual cup company Intimina, found that three out of four women believe the tampon tax should be eradicated. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed interpreted taxes on feminine products as a form of sexism.

Countless advocacy organizations have been established out of the need to provide consumers with affordable menstrual products and eliminate the tampon tax. One such group, Period Equity, recently launched a campaign with reproductive care company LOLA called “Tax Free. Period.”. Their campaign calls for the remaining 35 states with a tampon tax to eliminate it by Tax Day 2020. In the meantime, they’re gearing up for a legal battle to challenge the states that refuse to comply. Their argument? Taxes on a product that affect only women and other individuals who menstruate is a form of discrimination and thereby unconstitutional.

As reproductive rights groups await the response of state legislatures and federal courts on this issue, the half of Americans that use menstrual products in their lifetime are suffering. Women make less in wages than men but are forced to spend more. The tampon taxes expound gender inequality and costs American consumers millions of dollars each year–dollars that could benefit their families and stimulate the economy elsewhere. Period Equity’s tagline says it best: “Periods are not luxuries. Period.” It’s about time for American tax policy to reflect that reality.

Elaina Pevide is a student at Brandeis University where she majors in Public Policy and Psychology with a minor in Economics. She expects to graduate in May of 2020.

DC takes lead in fight against deceptive hotel resort fees

July 10, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is applauding District of Columbia (DC) Attorney General Karl Racine for his action this week to rein in Marriott International’s use of deceptive “resort fees.” According to the consumer group, the fees hide the true cost of a hotel stay and are too often presented to consumers in a “take it or leave it” fashion at the end of their hotel stays. On Tuesday, Racine filed a lawsuit against Marriott alleging that the hotel chain violated consumer protection laws by not including resort fees in the advertised room rates, luring consumers with deceptively low prices.

“Hotel resort fees tacked on at the end of a hotel stay are deceptive, plain and simple,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “That’s why NCL and other consumer groups have been raising the alarm about these anti-consumer practices for years. We are grateful to General Racine for leading the charge against Marriott and putting other hotels on notice that deceptive hotel resort fees have no place in the District.”

Advocates’ issue with resort fees is that they prevent consumers from being able to accurately compare the cost of a hotel room when they don’t know what the all-in costs will be until the end of their stay. Mandatory hotel resort fees leave consumers stuck paying extra costs that may have discouraged the booking had they been disclosed up-front.

Marriott owns, manages, and franchises more than 5,700 hotels and 1.1 million hotel rooms in more than 110 countries, including at least 29 hotels in the District of Columbia. In 2012 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned Marriott and nearly two dozen other hotel chains that their pricing practices around resort fees may violate federal consumer protection laws by misrepresenting the true price of hotel rooms. In 2017, the FTC’s Bureau of Economics issued a report concluding that “separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers.”

Marriott has charged resort fees to tens of thousands of District consumers over the years, totaling millions of dollars. Racine’s lawsuit alleges that over the past decade, Marriott has violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act and harmed District consumers.

“Marriott had fair warnings on several occasions but continued this unfair and deceptive business practice. We are so pleased that General Racine is seeking monetary relief for residents of the District who have been forced to pay these fees,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud. “We urge other state attorneys general to enforce their consumer protection laws against Marriott and other hotel chains whose are sticking millions of consumers with these deceptive, unwanted fees.”

The complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-07/Marriott-Complaint.pdf

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

The role of technology in meeting consumer demands for product info – National Consumers League

Entering the grocery store, more than 40,000 products are right at your fingertips. As our Food Policy Fellow Haley Swartz has written about previously, choice overload and the “tyranny of too much” are increasingly common for consumers in grocery store aisles.

In an age when nutrition, health, and product safety are major consumer priorities, it becomes increasingly important to know what are in the items you purchase, and how they compare to the many other options on the grocery shelf.

Transparency itself is in high demand, as some have even called it the must-have ingredient for successful food companies in the modern era. Substantial consumer research data also indicates consumer demand for industry transparency, particularly in food and beverage manufacturing. The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study found that 71 percent of consumers believed product transparency influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. A July 2017 survey found even more striking results, that 70 percent of purchases were influenced by transparency content.

A more recent survey from May 2018 found that if consumers were provided with additional information about a product, 80 percent said they would be more likely to buy it. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their interest about the information on product labels has increased over just the past two years.

Shoppers across the country are hungry for detailed information about what is in a product, why it is there, how it is produced, and what impact it has on the environment and their health. This call for more product information could be a result of the increasing complexity of food manufacturing, occurrence of allergies in the United States, and heightened awareness about the effect food has on our health.

A variety of tools aim to help anxious consumers wade through the noise to find the information they seek. But product packaging is becoming increasingly complex, enough so that some have called it a “competitive piece of real estate.” Only some of the information consumers want can be available directly in sight during grocery shopping experiences or when they are at home making out their shopping lists.

One tool that answers this question is SmartLabel, a digital disclosure tool which makes more information than can ever fit on a label available to consumers. SmartLabel works using a smartphone to scan barcodes or QR codes on food, beverages, personal care, and household products in the grocery store. Once the barcode is scanned, a SmartLabel website page provides detailed information about a range of things: ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, usage instructions, third-party certifications, such as Kosher, and other information such as whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The information can also be found by going to www.smartlabel.org on a computer while you’re at home.

As of June 2018, SmartLabel is being used on nearly 28,000 food, beverage, personal care and household products in grocery stores, with many more products on the way.

The National Consumers League food policy team applauds the grocery manufacturers and retailing industry for responding to consumer demand and working to create a way for consumers to find more transparent information about the products they are purchasing. We hope that the industry will continue to roll out similar initiatives that promote the best interests of consumers and respond to demand in the marketplace.