Last August, I attended a retail crime debate between a group of Kent retailers, police and crime commissioner Anne Barnes and two prospective parliamentary candidates.

I asked one candidate about their position on plain packaging when, especially given their location, the evidence suggested it would grow the illicit trade, benefit criminals and risk the livelihoods of legitimate traders in their area.

He replied that he wanted young people to stop smoking, he believed plain packaging would achieve this, but that it would also have some negative consequences for retailers.[pull_quote_right]Labour made tobacco a political issue and pushed the government to act under fear that it would be accused of being in the pockets of big business.[/pull_quote_right]

I was reminded of his answer this week when public health minister Jane Ellison surprised us all by announcing that the government would vote on plain packs before the general election in May.

Given that it is hasn’t yet published the results of its public consultation or assessed the impact of the display ban or TPD, it leaves me with little doubt that it is about election politics. Labour made tobacco a political issue and pushed the government to act under fear that it would be accused of being in the pockets of big business.

Pro and anti-tobacco lobbyists will never agree on the true impact of plain packaging on illicit sales in Australia. But for the government to be playing politics with your livelihood with even the slightest doubt about the harmful consequences is wrong.

That is why it is crucial that you use the timing of the announcement to your advantage. Your MP will be working hard to get votes over the coming months. Invite them to your store, tell them about the impact plain packaging would have on your business and show them everything you are already doing to be a responsible retailer.

Click here for a template letter to send your MP.