Fear as smoke prices rise

Dairy own­ers are scared there will be more rob­beries af­ter ci­garette price in­crease

Rotorua Daily Post - - Local News -

Some Ro­torua dairy own­ers fear they will be the ones to bear the brunt of the New Year’s Day to­bacco price hike with an in­crease in rob­beries and vi­o­lence.

Ro­torua’s Je­wan Preet-Kaur is one of those who knows what it’s like to have her life threat­ened for a packet of cig­a­rettes.

In March last year the Hill­crest Dairy store man­ager feared for her life when two men armed with ham­mers robbed her shop. It was the se­cond time in two months that she had been robbed and now Preet-Kaur be­lieves the in­creased price of cig­a­rettes will in­crease rob­beries.

“I don’t feel safe af­ter an in­creased price of cig­gies. It af­fects me, it af­fects the busi­ness.”

Preet-Kaur felt ap­pre­hen­sive com­ing into work know­ing the price of cig­a­rettes had in­creased and some peo­ple would be dis­grun­tled.

She said some of her cus­tomers had not cared that the prices had gone up but those who couldn’t af­ford them could start think­ing about al­ter­nate ways to feed their ad­dic­tion.

“Some think, ‘Why not just rob the shop and get a lot of cig­a­rettes in just five min­utes!’ ”

The store had se­cu­rity mea­sures in place to pro­tect staff in­clud­ing a new alarm be­cause it could not af­ford to stop sell­ing cig­a­rettes.

“Some peo­ple ask ‘Why don’t you just stop hav­ing cig­gies in your shop’ but with­out them we can’t sur­vive just on the lol­lies and drink.”

BP spokes­woman Anna Radich said se­cu­rity-re­lated events had in­crease in re­cent years.

“We have strong se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures in place, in­clud­ing lim­it­ing the cig­a­rettes we have in stock, and have in­vested heav­ily in a range of se­cu­rity mea­sures to en­sure peo­ple re­main safe at our stores.”

Her com­ments come af­ter staff were held at gun­point at the Te Ngae Rd branch last month.

A po­lice me­dia spokesman said at the time the rob­bers “made off with cig­a­rettes and cash”.

Radich said BP con­tin­u­ously re­viewed and eval­u­ated se­cu­rity risks, in­clud­ing ci­garette thefts, and took fur­ther steps when nec­es­sary.

She said BP did not plan to re­move the sale of cig­a­rettes or cigaret­tere­lated prod­ucts from the stores.

There were at least five other rob­beries last year, re­ported by the Ro­torua Daily Post, in which the of­fend­ers stole or at­tempted to steal cig­a­rettes.

Many shop own­ers ap­proached by the Ro­torua Daily Post were too ner­vous to com­ment pub­licly but agreed there was an in­creased risk of vi­o­lence due to the price in­crease of cig­a­rettes and said they had done ev­ery­thing they could to stay safe. Since Jan­uary 2010, the Gov­ern­ment has in­creased to­bacco ex­cise by at least CPI plus 10 per cent each year. The cur­rent se­ries of tax in­creases are sched­uled to end in 2020.

New Zealand Tax­pay­ers’ Union said it was op­posed to the con­tin­ued an­nual in­creases in to­bacco taxes. Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Jor­dan Wil­liams said the union’s re­port from last sum­mer, Up in Smoke: The So­cial Cost of To­bacco Ex­cise, found that pack-a-day smok­ers were $3000 worse off each year com­pared to 2010.

“To­bacco tax in­creases are be­com­ing less and less ef­fec­tive at re­duc­ing smok­ing rates as the level of tax in­creases, while pre­dom­i­nantly poor com­mu­ni­ties are put un­der in­creased fi­nan­cial pres­sure. Nat­u­rally, the bur­den of to­bacco tax is now driv­ing in­creases in bur­glar­ies and rob­beries to feed the black mar­ket.”

He said while there was no of­fi­cial data on the num­ber of rob­beries directly linked to to­bacco tax in­creases, the num­ber of recorded rob­beries in­creased 26.6 per cent be­tween 2014 and 2017, when the re­port was pub­lished.

“And there’s been a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in con­cerns from to­bacco re­tail­ers. It’s quite clear that to­bacco tax in­creases are hav­ing an im­pact on the safety of small shop own­ers.”

Ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tion Crime Preven­tion Group, which rep­re­sents dairy, petrol sta­tion and shop own­ers, be­lieved shop own­ers were fed up with the ris­ing crime at­trib­uted to ci­garette prices.

Pres­i­dent Sunny Kaushal said the ris­ing price of cig­a­rettes had be­come a mo­ti­va­tor for rob­beries which has re­sulted in shop own­ers be­ing fear­ful of their safety. “Of­fend­ers are find­ing it an easy tar­get to go to the dairies and at­tack the own­ers.”

He said the ci­garette tax in­creas­ing hadn’t de­liv­ered the ob­jec­tives that the Gov­ern­ment wanted to make New Zealand smoke­free by 2025.

“Peo­ple are still buy­ing it and com­pro­mis­ing buy­ing other stuff so it has opened up a lot more prob­lems than so­lu­tions.”

Photo / Stephen Parker

Store man­ager Je­wan Preet-Kaur with dairy owner Lakhwinder Singh (rear) have had many rob­beries in the past.

Leah Teb­butt

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