States Try To Take The Taboo Out Of Menstruation : Shots - Health News If 2015 was the year of the period, 2016 may be the year when women have to pay less for sanitary supplies, or even get them for free. Some state, local and federal legislators are pushing for change.
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New York Aims To Become The Next State To Toss The Tampon Tax

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New York Aims To Become The Next State To Toss The Tampon Tax

New York Aims To Become The Next State To Toss The Tampon Tax

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Tampons and pads are being marketed with more boldness than ever. It's no longer a big deal to see them discussed in pop culture, and now politicians are getting more comfortable with it. Around the country, lawmakers are working to make them cheaper and easier for girls and women to get. From WNYC, Fred Mogul starts us off at a high school in Queens.

CELINE SIERRA: So you're just turning this, and then a pad comes out.

FRED MOGUL, BYLINE: High school senior Celine Sierra is showing me a little piece of history.

SIERRA: Or a tampon comes out, yeah.

MOGUL: Celine and her friends are at the High School for Arts and Business in Queens, New York City's first public school with 100 percent free pad and tampon dispenser. They and the principal invited me into the bathroom to take a look. When the dispenser showed up in September, it caught Celine's friend Emily Torres off guard.

EMILY TORRES: I kind of stared at it for a little because usually when you see those dispensers, they won't say free. So, you know, it's bold. It's 25 cents, 50 cents, whatever the case is. And so I was like almost scared to use it.

MOGUL: But just for a second and pretty quickly this very industrial piece of machinery became a game changer. It used to be if their periods made a surprise appearance, they'd have to go to the nurse's office for supplies. And Ashley Celik, who's also in on this bathroom confab, says that was the worst.

ASHLEY CELIK: There was this one time when I was - it came out of nowhere. And then I walked to the nurse's office, and there was a huge line.

MOGUL: And Ashley wasn't about to publicly announce what she needed. So she just stood there waiting and waiting.

CELIK: So I was like oh my God. I'm missing notes. I could be taking notes. I have a test, all that stuff.

MOGUL: New York City council member Julissa Ferreras helped the school get the dispenser.

JULISSA FERRERAS: You go to the school nurse's office when you're sick. Getting your period just says that you're healthy.

MOGUL: It's part of a movement that some feminists call a political red wave to remove the taboo from menstruation. Five states have already exempted feminine products from sales tax, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota. New York has a proposal to follow suit. There's also a move in New York and other states to supply free tampons and pads in homeless shelters in women's prisons and federally to let women purchase them with pretax dollars. Ferreras wants every single elementary, middle and high school in the city to have a free dispenser.

FERRERAS: In all my years as an elected official, I've never heard anyone concerned about the budget for toilet paper. The reality is that is why we're legislating because this needs to be law, not just the budget item.

MOGUL: It's tough to say why periods are getting their due politically just now. So maybe it's pop-culture that shifted first? Old-school tampon TV ads used to feature lots of women twirling in flouncy skirts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Every woman is looking for the perfect fit.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You bet.

MOGUL: And now tampon marketing is on billboards, bus shelters, online.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Senseless leaks have been wrecking innocent undies for too long.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: We're making history ladies.

MOGUL: New York Assembly member Linda Rosenthal credits all this media attention with boosting her bill. She wants to exempt tampons and pads from sales tax statewide.

LINDA ROSENTHAL: When I introduced it in May of last year, it didn't capture anyone's attention or imagination. This year, it's a whole different story. Everybody's talking about this inequity.

MOGUL: Not that last year's crickets chirping on the assembly floor turned into this year's huzzahs from all her male colleagues.

ROSENTHAL: I used the word period and blood and some people of the older generation - they were shifting in their chairs, and some couldn't look at me because I was saying these words.

MOGUL: But the awkwardness didn't stop the assembly from unanimously approving her bill. Maybe it even helped. And the Senate passed a version unanimously, too. And if the governor signs it into law, pads and tampons will move on to the same tax-free medical supplies list that includes bandages, syringes and condoms. For NPR News, I'm Fred Mogul in New York.

CORNISH: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WNYC and Kaiser Health News.

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