A Whangārei dairy owner predicts the latest tobacco price hike will only see an increase in dangerous robberies and for the safety of his family he is selling his businesses.
The dairy owner, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said he had been subjected to a violent robbery last year when knife-wielding robbers jumped over the counter and demanded his wife hand over their 2-month-old baby girl.
His wife and another family member locked themselves in a back room to escape the robbers who also trashed the dairy. With their faces covered, the two robbers ripped out the cash register and emptied cigarettes off shelves and ran off. Just hours later police arrested two teenagers aged 15 and 16.
The dairy owner was not prepared to put his family at risk again and said he would sell his three dairies located around the city.
"I'm selling up because of safety. I worry for my family."
Even though he had security cameras, alarms and a fog cannon installed in his businesses that was not enough to guarantee his or his family's safety, he said.
"The penalties should be higher for those who do these crimes. They should get 10 years not just one. Either that or they reduce the price of cigarettes but that's not going to happen."
The latest rise sees a packet of 20 cigarettes increase to an average price of $28.
He said the profit margins on selling tobacco products was very slim but they drew people into the dairy and hopefully while they were there they would make sales for other products.
It meant long opening hours and operators were faced with the perpetual risk of violence.
Thieves targeting tobacco products and cash have used all manner of weapons in their attacks on dairy and small convenience shops in Northland over the last few years including a stolen car that was driven through the front door of a dairy in Whangarei.
He is not he first dairy owner to leave their business. Hikurangi dairy owner Hemant Sakar Lal closed his shop in 2017 after multiple robberies and the last incident which involved him being hit over the head with a tyre iron.
Northland police were advising businesses to make sure they had the tobacco products secured as per regulations and to make sure they knew how their security systems operated.
Sergeant James Calvert, Area Prevention Team supervisor, said dairy owners in Whangārei had been visited last year following a spate of armed robberies.
Shop owners were given advice and tips on how to make themselves safer and their stores a more difficult target for robbers.
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.
A Maori health organisation said a Smokefree 2025 strategy needed to look beyond tax alone that would reduce tobacco availability and appeal.
Hapai Te Hauora general manager of Tobacco Control Advocacy, Mihi Blair, asked why there were conversations about ways to protect tobacco and the shops that sold them rather than creating a strategy to phase them out.
"There would be no cigarettes to steal if they weren't available," Blair said.
"Every new year when there's a tax increase, we have the same conversations about protecting dairies from theft. We hope to start a new, more important conversation by asking how the government can limit where cigarettes are sold so communities already affected by tobacco aren't also harmed by the violence it is creating."