By Naomi Jagoda - 01/23/16 09:11 AM EST
Democrats may have found a new target in the culture wars: the “tampon tax.”
Most states impose a sales tax on feminine hygiene products, which is beginning to draw criticism from political circles — including the White House.
In an interview with YouTube star Ingrid Nilsen earlier this month, Obama said he didn’t understand why states impose a sales tax on an item that is a necessity for women to protect their health.
He said he suspected it was because “men were making the laws when those tax[es] were passed.”
While Obama said it’s up to governors and state lawmakers to exempt tampons from sales taxes, he said the issue “raises a broader question that I’ve been working on since I came into office which was how do we make sure that everybody has decent healthcare, preventive care, and women in particular have the kind of healthcare that they need.”
The tax on tampons has gained national attention at a time when candidates running for president and other offices are reaching out to women voters.
While the presidential candidates have not spoken out about the issue, there have been discussions during the campaign on the Democratic side about other issues affecting women, such as equal pay and paid family leave.
Forty states have some type of sales tax that is imposed on feminine hygiene products, according to Fusion.
Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon don’t have a state sales tax, meaning tampons are tax-free.
Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the only states that specifically exempt tampons and certain other health-related products from the state sales tax.
A bipartisan pair of state lawmakers in California — both of whom are women — introduced legislation earlier this month to exempt feminine hygiene products from their state’s sales taxes.
California women pay more than $20 million on taxes on tampons and sanitary napkins each year, while walkers, medical identification tags and prescription medications are exempt from sales tax in the state.
Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, a Democratic sponsor of the bill, said in a news release that it is particularly unfair that women have to pay taxes on feminine hygiene products because women make less money than men.
“Women have no choice but to buy these products, so the economic effect is only felt by woman and women of color are particularly hard hit by this tax,” Garcia said.
Several states have carved out exceptions from their sales taxes for other products.
New York already exempts drugs and medications that are considered to be necessities from sales taxes, as well as items such as sunscreen, lip balm and acne treatments.
Ohio exempts prescription drugs and food that is to be eaten off the premises where it is sold from the sales tax.
But both states impose the sales tax on tampons.
Legislation to exempt tampons from taxes could come up in several states.
A Wisconsin state lawmaker told WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee that she would be interested in taking up legislation on the issue in the next legislative session.
Meanwhile, a petition on change.org calling for state legislators to exempt menstural products from sales taxes, which was started by Cosmopolitan Magazine and writer and advocate Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, has won more than 42,000 signatures.