Four masked men have robbed a Palmerston North dairy at gunpoint, threatening the owners and an elderly customer.
Police are today still searching for the men who burst into the Gloriana Dairy in the suburb of Highbury about 7.40pm last night, their faces covered with hoodies and clothing.
One of the men threatened the male and female shop owners, and an elderly woman who came into the shop, with a long-barrelled firearm.
They stole the cash register and a quantity of tobacco before fleeing and eluding a police cordon.
The offenders would not have got more than few hundred dollars in cash and a similar value of tobacco, said Detective Sergeant David Clifford.
The firearm has not yet been recovered. Police were trying to identify the offenders by going through security camera footage. They may have been in their mid- to late-teens, he said.
The Association of Community Retailers (ACR) today linked the robbery with the Government's sudden hike in tobacco tax last week.
"They don't need to rob a bank for a mere $5000 when it's easier to rob a dairy of double that amount of value in tobacco products," said tobacco spokesman Richard Green.
Someone had also tried to break into his own Palmerston North Discount Tobacco business early on Sunday morning, he said.
A Ministry of Health proposal to outlaw tobacco displays would also make things worse for tobacco retailers, he said.
"It will be nothing for a couple of criminals to walk into my shop, close the door, assault me and steal my tobacco stock -- all without being seen because my windows will have to be blacked out under the new rules."
The ACR was spawned from the Stay Displays coalition, which lobbied for retailers' rights to sell and display tobacco.
Since it was established last week the fledgling ACR has continued to protest against changes to tobacco laws, saying tobacco was now a valuable commodity for criminals.