Retailers can use one of the most tightly fought elections in a generation to help persuade politicians to vote against government plans to introduce plain packaging, MPs have told Retail Newsagent.

Public health minister Jane Ellison announced last week that the policy would be introduced before the general election in May, subject to a free vote in the House of Commons.

MPs say retailers can influence elected members by setting out the threats to their business and highlighting the work they do to prevent youth access to tobacco.

They urged RN readers to contact their MPs and provide a counterpoint to health lobby arguments by inviting them to their stores to explain how current legislation was working.

The timing of the legislation has been criticised for failing to allow for the effect of a universal display ban or EU regulations to first become clear.

Labour MP for Bradford South Gerry Sutcliffe said: “The anti-tobacco lobby comes flying at you as an MP and retailers need to make sure their elected representative is aware of the other side. It’s a free vote and there are a lot of compelling arguments that retailers can make, the effect of the illicit trade in particular. Get your MP down to your shop and tell them about the good work you do.”

Conservative MP for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg told RN: “Retailers should gather names on an in-store petition and present them to their MPs at a surgery. If it is worded correctly, it can be submitted during the parliamentary debate. The views of customers will show that it’s not a purely commercial argument.”

Enfield North Tory MP Nick de Bois added: “This parliament, to its credit, has perhaps been the most independent minded in decades. Members are prepared to listen and respond to constituents.”

NFRN chief executive Paul Baxter added: “With a general election looming, MPs will be wise to listen to their local newsagents before they decide which way to vote.”

Invite your local MP to your store, so they can learn how plain packs will affect your business. Use our template invitation letter to help you.

Click next for our guide to creating a customer petition that’s correctly styled for Parliament