Opinion: Gross but true: Tampons and diapers are not essential to human survival

California Gov. Jerry Brown rejected an attempt to waive taxes on tampons and other feminine hygiene products along with other proposed tax breaks.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Sorry ladies and new parents, but California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed bills that would exempt diapers and tampons from sales tax. Those bills were among seven bills that got the gubernatorial ax because they gave tax breaks that Brown said would have collectively sucked about $300 million out of the state’s budget.

I’m not going to be popular with my female friends or family for saying this (especially my sisters who have four boys in diapers among them), but it was the right thing to do.

There is a certain logic to the state’s sales tax convention and these two proposals don’t fit into it. We tax all products except those essential for survival. That includes food, prescription medication and medical devices, power, water, shelter. (Clothing is not exempt, perhaps because we could survive fine without it if we never left the house and had sufficient food, water, power and heart medication.)

The argument used by proponents is that diapers are necessary for babies, and tampons and other feminine products are necessary for women, and it’s not fair to tax them. Necessary is relative, though.

Not to be too graphic here, but women survived for millennia without Huggies on hand to cover their babies’ bums or disposable pads and tampons for their monthly periods. They made do with washable cloths for both purposes for most of human history. Also — and this might be uncomfortable for male readers, so be warned — women who use birth control pills can skip menses altogether.


Also not fair to whom? I can afford to pay the 62 cents sales tax on a $6.99 box of Tampax without much pain. Having an extra $7.44 in my pocket a year won’t make much impact in my life.

And is it fair to give tax breaks to the rich? Kim Kardashian probably wouldn’t even notice if she got a sales break tax on Saint West’s Pampers. But all those breaks add up. In the case of tampons and diapers, that would be $56 million a year less revenue to the state budget.

And if diapers are exempt, why not toilet paper? Everyone uses that. And should soap be next? Or toothpaste? Or sponges or light bulbs or anything from Home Depot? How about automobiles and air conditioning in certain parts of the state? Once you start going down this particular road, it just gets easier and easier to add to the “necessary” list.

One colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, suggested to me that it would make more sense to tax disposable products such as diapers and sanitary pads at a higher rate because of their contribution to the waste stream. Now that’s a thought, but one I can’t see the Legislature willing to suggest.

Twitter: @marielgarzaLAT