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Tobacco lock box points to future

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 13/10/2016 Dave Williams

An Auckland service station has installed the country's first anti-theft tobacco dispenser in a move which could foreshadow the sale of the increasingly more expensive product in the future.

To deter crims making off with cartons at a time, the lock box at the Gull Avondale station dispenses one packet of cigarettes at a time and only after the sale has gone through the till.

Petrol companies are increasingly turning to such security measures to deter their stations being hit.

In 2002 a packet of 20 could cost you around $10, but a series of tax hikes aimed at making people quit means you now can't get them for less than $20.

That increasing cost is being blamed for a perceived rise in armed hold ups of dairies and service stations by those targeting cigarettes.

However, no one has the figures to prove it.

The country's biggest tobacco company, British American Tobacco, doesn't keep records of their product being stolen, and neither do police, although they do say there is anecdotal evidence tobacco is targeted because of its high value.

Palmerston North's Richard Green, who used to be head of the now-defunct Association of Community Retailers, is adamant rising prices have fuelled more attacks on dairies and service stations.

Two years ago, when there was a large tax rise, Mr Green told NZ Newswire he was burgled that week and then again three weeks later.

"It spikes, I feel, every time there is a price rise."

Criminals were after cash to buy drugs or cigarettes "because they are as dear as each other", he said.

Otago University's Janet Hoek, who studies tobacco control, says there are a lot of claims tobacco is being increasingly targeted, however it would be sensible to collect the data to assess them properly.

However, New Zealand's laws around selling tobacco were not well regulated compared to other countries, she said.

There were around 5000 tobacco retailers in the country but little was known about them.

"We don't know who is selling or where from."

If New Zealand were to become smokefree by 2025 the number of retailers would need to reduce and the government could restrict who could sell tobacco, she said.

If the number of outlets was reduced, it was possible the crime would reduce, and those shops still selling them could have more security measures to deter robberies and theft, she said.

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