A man who stole cigarettes and tobacco from a Whanganui dairy says he was under financial stress.

Dane Conrad Curtis first targeted the Castlecliff Camp Store on Rangiora St which he entered on November 11 requesting a packet of cigarettes and tobacco.

When the shopkeeper retrieved the items valued at $81.80, Curtis snatched them from his hands and left without paying for them.

The very next day, he was back at it again.

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"The defendant was at the Victoria Food Market and asked the attendant for two packets of tobacco," police prosecutor Graham Hoskin said in Whanganui District Court.

"As the attendant returned with the items, the defendant snatched the items from the counter and ran from the store without paying for them. They were valued at $170."

On the back of two successful robberies, Curtis again targeted the Victoria Food Market on November 18.

"The defendant returned to the Victoria Foodmarket and asked the attendant for two packets of tobacco," Hoskin said.

"The attendant returned to the counter with the items, the defendant snatched the items from the counter and ran from the store."

Curtis had also been caught trying to steal $150 worth of meat from PAK'nSAVE Whanganui on November 5.

In explanation for the thefts, Curtis told police he needed the smokes because he didn't have any money and could "easily" make some from selling the cigarettes.

"Mr Curtis has instructed me that the reason for this theft was financial stress," duty solicitor Ollie Crosse said.

"He knows that what he's done is wrong. He's entered guilty pleas immediately and he's here to front up."

Judge Dugald Matheson convicted Curtis on four charges of shoplifting after his guilty pleas and then sentenced him.

"Do you want to give up smoking, Dane?" The judge asked the defendant.

"Yes," Curtis said.

"That wasn't very convincing. You've been out of trouble for five or six years. You need to talk to a few people about getting your head right," Judge Matheson said.

He sentenced Curtis to 60 hours' community work and six months' supervision.

He also ordered Curtis to make reparation payments of $81.80 and $340.