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"Tampon tax" becomes flashpoint for Britain and euroskeptics

LONDON - Tampons have become the latest flashpoint in Britain's troubled relationship with the European Union.

EU opponents have joined feminist campaigners to fight Europe's "tampon tax" on women's sanitary products.

Campaigners say tampons should not be subject to sales tax since other products considered to be essentials are exempt, including food, children's clothing, books and newspapers.

Britain's opposition Labour Party sought this week to get the government to press Brussels for an exemption. They were backed by anti-EU politicians who cited the mandatory tampon tax as an egregious example of the bloc's interference in British life.

"We want to govern ourselves," said Conservative Euroskeptic William Cash.

Labour lawmaker Stella Creasy argued that the levy amounted to "a tax on women." She noted that "essential" items that are exempt from sales tax include razors, Jaffa Cake cookies and pita bread.

"When we start looking at what is described as a 'necessity' and what is a 'luxury,' we see the inequalities in this debate," she said.

The proposal was defeated in Parliament by a vote of 305 to 287 Monday. But Treasury minister David Gauke said the government sympathized with its aim and promised to press EU authorities for change.

Gauke said any change to the law "would require a proposal from the European Commission and the support of all 28 member states."

Under EU rules, all member states have to agree for a product to be exempted from goods and services tax, though individual countries can vary the rate on some items, including tampons. Since 2000, Britain has set the tax on sanitary products at the lowest-possible level of 5 percent. Many EU countries impose a tax of about 20 percent on tampons and sanitary pads.

The European Commission, the EU's executive, said Wednesday that it is currently working on a review of the tax rules, and "one option is to give member states more leeway to set VAT rates on certain products."

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