Two Georgia Democrats want to tackle ‘tampon tax,’ education

Two Georgia Democrats have filed separate legislation that would remove the state’s sales tax on menstrual products and teach students about the dangers of tampon use. Maya T. Prabhu/

Two Georgia Democrats have filed separate legislation that would remove the state’s sales tax on menstrual products and teach students about the dangers of tampon use. Maya T. Prabhu/

A pair of Georgia Democrats want to waive the state's sales tax on feminine products while teaching young women and girls the pitfalls that could come with improper use.

State Rep. Debra Bazemore, a Riverdale Democrat, has proposed that Georgia students learn about the risks of extended tampon use, which can cause toxic shock syndrome.

And when girls and women buy tampons and other menstrual products, state Rep. Debbie Buckner doesn't believe they should have to pay a sales tax on them.

“It’s a fairness issue,” said Buckner, a Junction City Democrat. “And it’s a cost issue because women tend to make less then men. It’s not a luxury item. Its not a choice. It’s a necessity.”

If not used properly, tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome — a severe bacterial infection with symptoms such as sudden high temperature and vomiting. In extreme cases, it can be fatal.

The illness, while rare, can develop when women and girls wear tampons too long during their menstrual cycles.

“It’s a real health issue,” Bazemore said. “We’re dealing with the issue of the chemicals that are being put into the tampons that are actually in your body and can affect you — and it could be deadly.”

Bazemore filed House Bill 10, which would require that the proper use of tampons and the dangers of toxic shock syndrome be part of Georgia's health and sexual education curriculum. Teachers would decide what age or grade would be best to introduce the topic.

Dr. Tamika L. Sea, a Stockbridge obstetrician/gynecologist, said she thinks the legislation is a good idea.

While Sea said women don’t need to avoid tampon use, it’s important to make sure the products that are used have low absorbency and aren’t in place for more than eight hours.

“More education regarding placement, duration and risks in the earlier years of a young woman’s menstrual history could also help prevent mishaps in usage and risks of (toxic shock syndrome),” Sea said. “Early introduction to education likely would aid in reducing overall prevalence.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires tampon manufacturers to print usage guidelines on the box.

This is Bazemore’s second attempt at adding toxic shock syndrome to the state’s health curriculum. When her bill received no traction last year, Bazemore took her suggestion to Deputy Georgia Schools Superintendent Jerry McGiboney.

Schools spokeswoman Meghan Frick said McGiboney has spoken with heath curriculum staff to see how best to add toxic shock syndrome to the standards. Still, Bazemore said, she wants an official change to the curriculum.

Buckner takes issue with the fact that when tampons, and other menstrual items, are purchased, women and girls pay the 4 percent state sales tax.

“Women are unfairly taxed on an item that there is no male equivalent for,” Buckner said, adding that other nonprescription medical devices, such as diabetic test strips and insulin syringes, are exempt.

The FDA classifies menstrual tampons and pads as medical devices.

Buckner said she thinks taxing menstrual products has been an oversight, and she introduced House Bill 8 to rectify things. Ten states have gotten rid of what's been called the "tampon tax."

She introduced a similar bill last year, but it went nowhere.

Buckner said women have typically had little involvement in deciding which sales-tax exemptions lawmakers approve each year. Historically, there have been few women in leadership positions in the General Assembly.

“I know it was not malicious in intent,” she said. “(Men) don’t have to deal with it or use those products, so they don’t have to think about it.”

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