Key Points:

    • Rotorua liquor store owner says he'll try to kill the next robber through his door
    • Te Puke store operator claims some shops fuel crime by selling stolen cigarettes
    • One Hawke's Bay dairy owner estimates a robbery occurs every 2-3 days
    • Police cannot say how many tobacco-related crimes are hitting retailers

    Fed up shopkeepers have called for action after a relentless spate of aggravated robberies targeting cigarettes, which have become "like stocking gold".

    One liquor shop owner says he will try to kill the next person who tries to rob him.

    Another retailer claimed unscrupulous stores were buying stolen cigarettes cheaply and on-selling them, fuelling the crimes.

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    Vinnie Gillgren, whose Te Puke Four Square was robbed last year at knifepoint, said tobacco was attractive for people seeking a quick buck, and those who bought it were feeding the industry.

    "What these guys are doing is taking tobacco from shops and then on-selling it, generally to unscrupulous small business owners who don't care about where the products have come from," Gillgren said.

    "That's what needs to be brought to attention. There needs to be more focus somehow on stopping business owners [buying from] the black market."

    On Tuesday morning, two shops in the Otago town of Palmerston and one in Palmerston North were hit. Thieves made off with more than $40,000 worth of cigarettes and cash.

    The burglaries came less than a week after hundreds of shopkeepers marched in Manukau, calling for more police on the streets and a review of the law to protect them from often violent break-ins.

    An attempted burglary last week on Cameron Rd Liquorland, Tauranga. The two unidentified men fled with nothing when confronted.
    An attempted burglary last week on Cameron Rd Liquorland, Tauranga. The two unidentified men fled with nothing when confronted.

    The Herald has found at least 128 tobacco-related hits on petrol stations, liquor stores and dairies since the beginning of last year, but there were likely to be many more as not all were reported on.

    When asked under the Official Information Act (OIA) for the numbers of tobacco-related crime, police said they could not provide figures because of the way crime is recorded.

    Cigarette prices have increased sharply in recent years. Tax on the products rises 10 per cent on January 1 every year in an attempt to reduce the smoking rate. The Crown received $1.7 billion in tobacco taxes last year - more than 2 per cent of all tax revenue.

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    A Rotorua liquor store owner, who did not want his identity or stores to be made public, was so angry he said he would try to kill the next person who steals from him.

    "If someone comes to rob me, I will try to do anything to kill them," the man said.

    His handful of stores have been robbed of cash, cigarettes and alcohol more than a thousand times in the past 10 years, he said, ranging from overnight ram-raids to youths grabbing bottles and running.

    "I don't trust the law. Any criminal that's caught will do it again. So I'm going to teach them on the spot," he said.

    The owner of a Hawke's Bay store, who also did not want to be identified, said tobacco had become so coveted he knew it was just a matter of time before his store was robbed.

    "Eventually we knew it was going to happen because the way things are going in Hawke's Bay. Every two or three days there's a robbery here," the man said.

    Crime Prevention Group founder Sunny Kaushal organised a public march of almost 700 people on Sunday to draw attention to rising crime against shopkeepers.

    "This issue is so serious, and the Government has not been listening," Kaushal said.

    "We need action now. We need more police and we need to see the enforcement. We're asking to review the law."

    Police crime statistics showed in the 12 months to February this year, there was a 3.9 per cent increase in theft, robbery and unlawful entry with intent or burglary.

    Contributing to this increase were almost 10,000 extra victims of unlawful entry.

    Hawke's Bay area prevention manager inspector Andrew Sloan said there was "some anecdotal evidence" suggesting tobacco and cigarettes were being targeted.

    "We continue to work with large and small retailers and provide advice and support to help improve security and make their premises less attractive for thieves," Sloan said.

    Rotorua police area prevention manager Stuart Nightingale said he could see why fighting offenders was tempting for shopkeepers, but said it was not the recommended course of action at all.

    "I think they open themselves up to significant risk. There's too much that can go wrong," Nightingale said.

    Nightingale said Rotorua had a team of six police focusing on volume crime, including cigarette burglaries.

    New Zealand Association of Convenience Stores executive director Dave Hooker said he wasn't aware of any organised black market operators selling tobacco to stores, but said there was a significant financial incentive due to tobacco's normally low profit margin.

    "It'd be a pretty lucrative opportunity for someone already selling tobacco. It could be happening."

    He said security had become an increasing worry for tobacco stockists.

    "It's been a concern, not just recently, but for a number of years, as the excise on tobacco goes up every year," he said.

    "There is a point where you say, 'when is enough, enough?' on the excise [tax] side of it.

    "It's becoming like stocking gold."

    - Additional reporting Shandi Sinclair