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CVS cuts cost of menstrual products in 12 states with "tampon tax"

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CVS Health is lowering the price of menstrual products in 12 states, including in Texas, where attempts to repeal a so-called "tampon tax" have so far failed. The chain is also reviewing other items to ensure women's products like razors and shaving cream aren't higher priced than those marketed to men.

The pharmacy chain on Tuesday said it would reduce by 25% the cost of CVS Health brand tampons, menstrual pads, liners and cups at core locations on or before Thursday, October 13. 

CVS announced it earlier this month began paying applicable sales tax on period products in a dozen states: Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

"There are laws in 13 states that prohibit any organization from covering the tax on any product, and CVS is working through operational matters in Arizona and hope to be able to cover the tax in the future," a CVS spokesperson said in an email.

CVS is also working with other organizations to eliminate menstrual taxes altogether, according to the company, which operates 9,900 retail outlets in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 

The moves drew praise from the National Diaper Bank Network and the Alliance for Period Supplies. 

"We believe that no material basic necessity, including period supplies and/or diapers, should be subject to state sales taxes," Joanne Samuel Goldblum, CEO of the groups, told CBS MoneyWatch in an emailed statement. "We are actively advocating for legislation to end the tampon tax in the 22 states that continue to impose [it]."

"Period poverty"

Across roughly half of the country, menstrual hygiene products are viewed as luxury items, rather than necessities, and are not exempted from sales taxes — leaving low-income people struggling to afford them. 

The concept of imposing a sales tax on products that half the population needs for a significant part of their lives has been under fire in some quarters for decades, with 21 states currently engaged in the practice, according to USA Facts. Since 2016, 24 states have exempted menstrual products from state sales tax, while five states have no sales tax at all, the nonprofit data resource stated.

"Period poverty is a common yet hidden and stigmatized public health issue in the United States and globally," according to Jhumka Gupta, an associate professor at George Mason University. "It can reduce women's participation in school and the workplace," stated Gupta in releasing a 2021 study that found one in 10 college women lack access to menstrual hygiene products.

As of 2021, five states — Arkansas, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon — had no sales tax. At the same time, 15 states exempted period products from sales tax: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington. 

Since then, other states have followed suit. Colorado in August stopped charging a sales tax on diapers, incontinence and menstrual products. 

In Texas, menstrual products are listed as "wound care dressings," according to the state tax code, but are still subjected to a state tax, while male libido enhancers and gender-neutral products like Band-Aids are not. 

Still, one lawmaker, state senator Joan Huffman, vowed to pass legislation exempting feminine hygiene products from the sales tax in the year ahead. "Looking forward to working with my colleagues to get this done, next session," the Houston Republican tweeted in August. 

The issue is not unique to America. Scotland recently became the first country to mandate that menstrual products be made available free of charge to anyone who needs them.

"Gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises and harmful traditions can all turn menstruation into a time of deprivation and stigma, which can undermine their enjoyment of fundamental human rights," the United Nations Population Fund stated in May.

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