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Tampons Will Soon Join Helicopters and Kangaroos as Non-Taxed Items in the UK

The UK government has said it is "a step closer" to ending the so-called "tampon tax," a 5 percent charge on women's sanitary products, imposed by the European Union.
Photo by Alastair Grant/AP

UK Prime Minister David Cameron won backing at a European Union summit on Thursday to end the so-called "tampon tax," which enforces a 5 percent rate on women's sanitary products on the basis they are non-essential, luxury items.

Thetax has been branded "overtly sexist" by campaigners, who point out that products such as helicopters, edible cake decorations, and exotic meats such as crocodile and kangaroo all escape being taxed based on being classified as essentials.

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The UK government has previously argued that the tax could not be cut because of European law — having been slashed from 17.5 percent in 2000, following a campaign by Labour Party MP Dawn Primarolo — and the issue had become a political football in Britain, ahead of a referendum in June which will see the British public vote on leaving the EU.

"We're a step closer to ending the tampon tax," a British government spokeswoman told reporters after EU leaders agreed to express support in the summit statement for an adjustment to UK value-add tax [VAT] on women's sanitary products.

"It shows we can come to Brussels and get people to listen," she added during a meeting dominated by Europe's migrant crisis.

Europe and the UK Are Edging Closer to Make or Break

British euroskeptics accusing the EU of sexism have seized on complaints that tampons and other female hygiene products carry the sales tax of 5 percent in the UK while other goods such as razors, mainly used by men, are exempt from VAT.

Cameron's government previously said that it wanted to end VAT on tampons but that its hands were tied by EU rules. A VAT waiver, known as zero-rating, applied in Britain to many essential items including food and medicine, is a legacy pre-dating an EU minimum VAT rate of 5 percent.

Tampons were not classed as essentials when Britain joined the bloc in the 1970s and current EU rules forbid states from adding new items to an approved list of VAT-exempt articles.

However, the executive European Commission is presenting proposals next week to return some flexibility on VAT to member states. EU officials said that Cameron persuaded his peers to give special mention to tampons because all of them are anxious that he win the referendum to keep Britain in the bloc.

Formal summit conclusions stated that the "European Council … welcomes the intention of the Commission to include proposals for increased flexibility for member states with respect to reduced rates of VAT, which would provide the option to all member states of VAT zero rating for sanitary products."

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