Dairy owners appalled at a spate of armed attacks on stores say the increased price of cigarettes is likely to blame.
Three Tauranga dairies, the 14th Ave Dairy, Cameronian Dairy and Brookfield Superette, have been targeted in the past 10 days by men carrying weapons.
Lenz Superette owner Farukh Khan said he believed the attacks were linked to hikes in tobacco tax.
"Part of it will be cigarette prices. That is my belief anyway after running this for over 10 years," he said.
Yes I am scared all the time because these robberies make me unsure what to expect when customers enter my store which has an effect with my customer relationships.
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"There has been a $12 increase in price. If people can't afford it, dairies are the easiest target, they come into a dairy, demand money or cigarettes."
A pack of 20 cigarettes will increase from about $20 now to around $30 in 2020 after hefty new excise increases were announced as part of the Budget earlier this year. The announcement follows years of tobacco tax increases in New Zealand.
Mr Ahmad said there had never been anything to worry about for most of his time at the dairy "but in the last two to three weeks we have had some issues with customers".
"Safety is always a concern when working in the dairy ... we can't do anything to stop something from happening in front of the counter."
Mr Ahmad said his biggest concern was not only his safety but the safety of his customers as well.
Another dairy owner, who did not want to be identified, said the robberies made him feel unsafe in his store.
" I am scared all the time because these robberies make me unsure what to expect when customers enter my store, which has an effect with my customer relationships."
The owner said cigarette prices going up were driving the robberies and he was concerned people would steal cigarettes or cash or hurt him, which would affect his business.
"We have little security and are often run by families."
Harjip Singh, from Girven Rd Micromart, said while the robberies were "very sad", he was not overly concerned that he could be targeted.
"We are alright I think. We have a busy road and we always have two people in our shop. That to me, I think, is good for us."
Mr Singh said items had become more expensive lately which made it hard for people not working. He believed this was possibly a reason behind the recent attacks.
Another dairy worker, who did not want be identified, said she looked sideways at some people coming into the store for a long time "especially with their hoodies on".
"But I just speak to everybody and ask them if they've had a good day. If they walk in here with attitude written all over their face, I ask them how they've been, and they come right.
"I think just talk to them, it makes a difference. I've been doing this for 20 years. I've never been one (victim of aggravated robbery). I have been sworn at though."
Police said in a written response they were unable to comment on reasons behind the robberies.
- additional reporting Lilli Scott
Police investigate cash till found on rugby field
Police are investigating whether an empty cash till found on a local rugby field could have been stolen during one of the city's recent robberies.
Tauranga police Detective Sergeant Paul Barron said a cash till was found on Monday night on the field at the Greerton Marist Rugby Club, Oropi Rd. However, police were yet to confirm if it was the same cash till robbed from the Cameronian Dairy, he said.
''There was a cash till located by members of the public who found it,'' Mr Barron said.
''We will be (forensically) testing the till and speaking to the people who found it. If anyone else has seen suspicious activity in the area, over the past few days, we would like to speak to them.''
Mr Barron said police were still investigating the robbery, in which two masked men entered the Cameron Rd dairy on Sunday evening and used a hammer to threaten the store assistant.
The main offender fled with cigarettes and cash after ripping the till's cash box from the counter.
Less than 24 hours later, the 14th Ave Dairy was also robbed. Police have not said whether they were treating both incidents as linked.
If anyone thinks they are able to help, they are asked to contact police on 07 577 4300 or alternatively, information can be provided anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Tobacco tax set to soar
* The tax on tobacco will rise by 10 per cent on January 1 each year for the next four years.
* That is expected to bring in an extra $425 million in tax over that period.
* It will affect the some 15 per cent of adult New Zealanders who smoke each day - about 550,000 people.
* That rate increases to 35 per cent for Maori, and 22 per cent for Pacific people.