It shouldn’t be a big surprise that the U.S. is now facing a tampon shortage. After all, since early 2020, there have been shortages of, well, seemingly everything. This has ranged from the great (or rather not so great) toilet paper shortage that coincided with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to shortages of personal protective equipment, cleaning products, yeast, bicycles, and a host of other products over the ensuing two years right up to the recent baby formula shortage. What may be more surprising, though, is who’s being blamed for the tampon shortage. Or perhaps it’s not surprising at all given the current ongoing shortage of attention to facts and science.
Some people have been referencing a comedian, men’s restrooms, and the border as reasons for the tampon shortage, which may sound like the beginning of a joke. In this case, the comedian is Amy Schumer, who starred in the 2015 movie Trainwreck. As Alana Semuels described in a June 7 Time article, Procter & Gamble (P&G), the makers of Tampax, has essentially blamed Schumer for the tampon shortage. Yes, you heard that correctly, one celebrity. Now, if you are wondering whether Schumer herself cleared the shelves and build a tampon fortress in her home, keep in mind that Schumer underwent surgery in 2021 to remove her uterus due to endometriosis. In other words, she no longer has a uterus, as Schumer reminded everyone in the following Instagram post:
Instead, apparently P&G has claimed that Schumer’s “It’s time to Tampax” ad campaign for P&G in July 2020 is what caused a surge in retail sales with Tampax demand being “up 7.7% over the past two years,” according to Semuels. And this unexpected demand has outpaced P&G’s supply. Semuels added that “the company is running its Auburn, Maine Tampax factory 24/7 to meet demand.” That single factory reportedly makes all of P&G’s tampons, similar to how a single Dover, Delaware, factory is responsible for the entire stock of Edgewell Personal Care tampons, including the Playtex and o.b. brands.
Meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), who’s not officially a comedian, a scientist, or a supply chain expert, has laid the blame elsewhere. And one of her targets bordered on, well, you can see in the following June 13 tweet from Taylor Greene:
As you can see, Taylor Greene wrote, “Has anyone checked the warehouses at the border where all the baby formula is stocked floor to ceiling on shelves?” Huh? What in the peach tree dish does “the border” have to do with the tampon shortage?
Taylor Greene’s tweet went on with, “Or maybe some men’s restrooms? Apparently they are available there.” Before you get the Gazpacho police to storm men’s bathrooms to get you some tampons, let’s hear what Taylor Greene had to say about tampons during her recent appearance on a Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN) show hosted by Brian Glenn. Not surprisingly, this conversation quickly went into the toilet as well. David Edwards, who writes for Raw Story, shared a video clip of her appearance in the following tweet:
In the clip, Taylor Greene began with a “It’s Reigning Men” argument, asserting that men have taken over everything such as women’s sports, presumably referring to transgender men. She then argued that the tampon shortage is “probably because men are buying tampons.” Next, the flow of conversation moved to Glenn, who responded, “we have that many beta males that are buying into this agenda that they can menstruate? This is crazy, absolutely crazy.” To that Taylor Greene replied, “They put tampons in men’s bathrooms,” and added again, “the war on women.”
Umm, try a war on evidence. Has Taylor Greene provided any real facts to support any of these claims? Similarly, it’s hard to believe that a single celebrity’s ad campaign was responsible for the shortage of a product that was already essential to many people. It’s not clear whether the boost in Tampax sales was an increase in the total number of tampons being bought or a shift to Tampax from other competing products such as other brands of tampons.
More obvious targets would be the things that have caused the shortages of other products since the Covid-19 pandemic started, namely, shortages in raw materials, personnel, and manufacturing capacity. All three of these may apply to the tampon situation. Tampons commonly consist of cotton and rayon, a cotton byproduct, and cotton shortages have already been reported. Similarly, a March 26, 2021, Harvard Business Review article by Bindiya Vakil described supply chain issues with plastic, another key component of tampons.
Furthermore, while relying on so few plants for manufacturing all tampons rather than maintaining more redundancy may save costs when all is going smoothly, it leaves the entire tampon supply chain much more vulnerable to disruptions. In other words, if you try to run everything lean all the time without much extra capacity, you are going to get caught with your proverbial pants down when the supply of raw materials, personnel, or equipment or the demand changes such as what’s happened during the Covid-19 pandemic. A well-constructed supply chain is supposed to be like a good pair of yoga pants, resilient and able to adapt to changes in different aspects of supply and demand.
All of this is especially important for staple products. Not things that go in staples but things that are needed on a regular basis, like tampons. Tampons aren’t luxury goods like champagne trunks or sleeveless hoodies. You can’t just say, “ok, maybe I just won’t buy tampons for the next several months.” To that, your body will simply tell you when tampons are needed, period. So with demand remaining quite continuous, any interruption in the flow of tampons to the shelves could result in the shortages being seen today.