BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A shortage of tampons in Argentina has turned demand for one of the most personal of personal hygiene products into a public debate over what is stopping the flow of products to store shelves.
Government officials and product importers tossed blame at one another Wednesday, with Argentina insinuating that businesses are trying to drive up prices.
Speaking to reporters, Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich said there were no special restrictions on importing tampons, which he called "sensitive products," and blamed the shortage on a commercial "strategy" by importers.
But Miguel Ponce, head of the Chamber of Importers, blamed government regulations.
In general, he said authorities have been particularly slow to issue import permits for several products. Also, some companies have had trouble getting access to foreign currency, he said.
In recent months, Argentina has tightened its already strict control on foreign currencies in an attempt to curb inflation and capital flight. The government hopes that by restricting currency exchanges it will protect reserves at home needed to pay off its debts. That has often made it hard for importers to get the funds they need to buy products abroad.
The restrictions on imports, combined with high inflation in South America's second-largest economy, have led to periodic shortages of pharmaceutical products in recent years, such as latex gloves and needles.
Tampons have become scarce the last two weeks. Store shelves that normally stock tampons have been stripped bare in some coastal areas where tourists flock during South America's warm summer months.
Marcelo Yarmaian, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, one of the main providers of tampons in Argentina, told the country's official news agency Telam that the shortages mainly affected boxes of the most popular sizes and quantities, not tampons overall. The company said it was working with distributors to make sure "the product is available on the shelves shortly."
Daniela Perez, 30, said she could not find tampons when she was vacationing during New Year's in La Lucila del Mar, a coastal city 222 miles (358 kilometers) southeast of Buenos Aires.
"I was looking for three days," Perez said Wednesday while shopping at a Buenos Aires pharmacy that did not have any tampons in stock. "Luckily, my sister, who was there, saved me. She had some that I brought back to Buenos Aires."
Argentina imports most tampons from neighboring Brazil, said Ponce, the head of the importers chamber. He said it would take a few weeks for the situation to normalize, in part because of panic buying.
"People see the news, get alarmed, and then go out and stock up," he told news site Infobae.
In recent days, Twitter has exploded with jokes and complaints about the shortage. Some said Argentina was becoming more like Cuba and Venezuela, where hygiene products frequently are hard to find.
Claudio Guerschuny, a Buenos Aires pharmacist, told television channel Todo Noticias that in addition to tampons there is a shortage of adult diapers and children's swim diapers.
"We don't have a single tampon," she said. "Drug stores don't have answers and they also have not gotten any answers" from the government.