With less than two weeks to go before MPs return to Parliament and vote on the Health Bill on October 12, the fight to keep tobacco products on public display has reached a critical point.

It's been just over a year since we launched our Keep Tobacco Over The Counter campaign, and the past 12 months have seen a concerted effort by retailers, manufacturers, trade bodies and Convenience Store to convince MPs that the display ban is expensive, unfair and will have no effect on youth smoking.

We might be nearing the finish line, but now is not the time to slacken the pace. Now is the time for one last monumental sprint to halt this bill before it is too late.

Because a dark market could mean lights out for many in our industry. Just ask Dave Bryans, President of the Ontario and Canadian Convenience Store Association, which is now having to deal with the fallout of the Canadian government's decision to ban tobacco displays on a state-by-state basis in 2002.

"I can only encourage all retailers to continue to fight the fight of their lives as a display ban will change the convenience store business model for ever in your country," he says. "From the first day of a ban onwards, you will see record store closures and year over year losses of revenue from your biggest stakeholder; the tobacco industry.

"Contraband will begin to grow to new and unprecedented levels and youth access will not be affected due to the availability of illegal tobacco."

And it won't end there, he adds. "It won't be long before government and health groups realise that a display ban has not achieved its aim of reducing youth smoking, so before you know it they will begin lobbying for even more restrictions." 

What's next?

And as well as the cost and disruption to retailers, a display ban could open up a whole new can of worms for other product categories such as crisps, snacks, alcohol and confectionery. The government is already consulting on plans to ban the display of sweets and snacks at children's eye level, so how long will it be before a proposal to put chocolate in the dark is raised?

We are not fighting for tobacco; we are fighting for the principle that shops need to display their wares. So it really is vital that you use these few remaining days to urge your MP to oppose the ban before it's too late.