‘A bad thing for women’: Tampon shortage among challenges Upper Valley women are facing

  • The supply of feminine-hygiene products is sparse at a CVS Pharmacy in Claremont, N.H., on June 23, 2022. (Patrick Adrian photograph) Patrick Adrian photograph

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 6/26/2022 9:41:00 PM
Modified: 6/26/2022 9:38:28 PM

WEST LEBANON — A nationwide supply shortage of tampons is resulting in empty shelves at major pharmacy retailers, including in the Upper Valley, higher prices and now the attention of New Hampshire lawmakers and women’s health advocates, who call the shortage another difficult burden being placed on women and families.

Deborah Jordan Brooks, a Dartmouth College professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said that this tampon shortage is “a bad thing for women,” one that adds “insult to injury” to women who have already had to endure a litany of challenges, from difficulty finding childcare to formula shortages to defunding of Planned Parenthood health services by states, including New Hampshire.

Brooks, who has advocated for improved access locally and globally to feminine hygiene and menstrual health, said she worries in particular about the impact of these shortages on women and families in poverty.

“There are so many things that women need for themselves and their families right now that they don’t have access to,” Brooks said. “So many things are hitting right now [and] it tends to be the people who are the most marginalized who tend to be at the mercy of the economic changes and shortages before everyone else.”

U.S. manufacturers of feminine hygiene products — including Procter & Gamble, maker of Tampax, and Edgewater Personal Care, which makes Playtex — have reported “temporary delays” to fill orders of tampon products, citing a combination of supply-chain issues and a sizable growth of retail demand.

Procter & Gamble spokesperson Cheri McMaster, according to a Time article on June 7, stated that demand for Tampax has risen 7.7% over the past two years. McMaster said the surge in retail sales followed the company’s ad campaign for Tampax featuring comedian Amy Schumer.

The Time article also noted that all of Procter & Gamble’s tampons are made in one factory in Maine, while all of Edgewell’s tampons are made in one factory in Dover, Delaware.

The average price of tampons has increased nearly 10% in the last year through May 28, according to a Bloomberg article on June 9, which cited data from data analysis company NielsenIQ.

The Bloomberg article also attributed the inflation in tampon prices to cost increases in their materials, including cotton, whose domestic production has been affected by drought, and oil-based polymers.

The high cost of transportation fuel also contributes to higher transportation costs, as well as delays, as “record high diesel prices have cut into drivers’ profitability to the point that some are declining to carry loads,” according to the Bloomberg report.

Average prices rose 8.3% for a package of menstrual pads and 9.8% for tampons in the year through May 28, according to NielsenIQ. Personal-care goods, a broad category that includes period products and items such as shampoo and shaving equipment, saw their biggest annual price jump since August 2012, April figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also show.

In the Upper Valley, shortages of feminine products may be most apparent at larger retail-chain pharmacies, according to several independently-owned pharmacies in the region, who told the Valley News that their stores only carry a small stock of feminine-hygiene products.

“I wasn’t aware there was a shortage,” said Jason Hockberg, an owner of Smilin’ Steve’s Ottauquechee Pharmacy, in Woodstock. “I haven’t heard any complaints from our customers about our product stocking.”

But in a CVS Pharmacy in Claremont, the absence of tampons is more glaring. Late last week, the shelves reserved for tampons were almost entirely bare, save for a few stray boxes that collectively would only fill about one-tenth of the total shelf-space provided by the store.

The manager of the CVS, who did not provide his name, said that he returned recently to the store location and could not speak to the supply shortage, which he said is managed at the corporate level.

In statements to the media, CVS Health and Walgreens have acknowledged temporary shortages of some brands of feminine-hygiene products due to a manufacturing shortage, though neither specified which brands were affected or when these shortages are expected to be resolved.

Krista Duval, manager of the Dartmouth Health Women’s Health Resource Center in Lebanon, said the center has not been impacted by the nationwide shortage.

The Women’s Health Resource Center operates a menstrual product bank, where women in need can come in once every 14 days to receive a free package of feminine-care products. The availability is dependent on donations, though Duval said the center’s supply has not suffered.

In addition to disposable menstrual products, such as tampons and pads, the Women’s Health Resource Center also carries reusable products, such as washable cups and pads, which are available for purchase or are free when a donated supply is available. The reusable products range in price from $25-40, depending on product type or size.

“So if people would like to try those, we provide those as well,” Duval said, adding that women may visit the bank during the center’s regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Planned Parenthood center in White River Junction also provides free women’s menstrual products at its center. The Valley News contacted the center to inquire about its product supply but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

The opportunity for women to explore alternatives to disposable menstrual products, such as those available at the Women’s Health Resource Center, might be one positive outcome of this otherwise undesirable situation, Brooks, the Dartmouth professor, said.

“In no way do I mean to suggest that it’s good to have shortages and price increases for women’s menstrual products,” Brooks said. “But one thing that may come out of it is that a wider range of women in the U.S. might become aware of reusable menstrual product alternatives or alternatives to bleeding entirely through the strategic use of birth control.”

Birth control that allows the body to circumvent menstruation include birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

Many women in America have less familiarity with reusable menstrual products, which are currently not as widely available as disposable products and might have a higher cost upfront, Brooks noted.

On June 13, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, issued a letter to the CEOs of the five major U.S. tampon manufacturers, including John Moeller, of Procter & Gamble, to raise concerns about public reports of tampon shortages and alleged price gouging.

While acknowledging that data is limited to study the price changes, Hassan noted that tampon prices are “up 10 percent from a year ago,” while Procter & Gamble posted a sales gain of 10% in its feminine care division, “its biggest sales gain in decades.”

“Access to menstrual products should be treated like every other essential good,” Hassan told the company executives. “At the beginning of the pandemic, price gouging of essentials like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer was rightly criticized as an exploitation of an emergency for financial gain. Menstrual products should receive that same consideration.”

Patrick Adrian can be reached at pfadrian25@gmail.com.

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