Dying for a smoke


I confess to being an ex-smoker. My husband still smokes, although I do wish he would give up. But as far as I am aware, cigarettes are still legal, even if they are a restricted purchase nowadays.

It seems that the latest rounds of tax hikes on cigarettes have had the desired effect, and people are giving up smoking. But, this might not be for the reasons that you think.

Cigarette robberies are set to get worse, experts say.

The increasing value of tobacco has created a flourishing black market, leaving dairies with little option but to fortify or abandon the product.

Aggravated robberies jumped 87 per cent in the year to May 2017, with more than 1200 counted nationwide.

On Tuesday, a Hamilton East dairy owner was severely injured by a machete-wielding robber. The Te Kowhai Food Centre, subject to at least 10 robberies, has abandoned tobacco and its $700 weekly income.

More police boots on the ground are a promised a solution, but many are convinced nothing will change as Government ratchets up the cost of tobacco.

So the price hikes have seen a marked increase in violent robberies in dairies, and the end result of this is that dairy owners are giving up on selling tobacco.

No one can blame the dairy owners. There is no point in putting your life on the line. But there is more to it than that. Dairies make a significant part of their revenue from the sale of cigarettes. Once that is gone, many will be forced to close, losing their livelihoods altogether.

A commonly leveraged criticism, Bradley said, is the tax makes tobacco inaccessible to the people who can least afford them.

The long-term solution to rising robberies is the same offered by the tax: reduce the demand for cigarettes.

The short-term solution? “Target hardening” dairies in ways similar to a bank or jewellery store, which has substantially reduced robberies for cash and gold.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

The problem, of course, is that, with a pack of cigarettes being about $30 these days, a lot of smokers can’t afford it. But it isn’t easy to just give up: all ex-smokers know that. And so, you either go for nicotine patches, or you get your fix some other way: probably through the black market, if you know the right people.

And the government solution to protect dairy owners? Fog cannons.

As part of a Government-subsidised push, about 20 dairies have so far had fog cannons installed, with another 17 signed up.

But fog cannons don’t always work.

To be honest, at $30 bucks a pack, fog cannons are a minor disincentive. Particularly if you know you will probably get away with it.

On March 8, armed thieves were not curbed by a fog cannon released as they forced entry into a Hillcrest Caltex service station. The staff member fled into a staff room, and the men left with cigarettes and the till.

“You set up a fog cannon, CCTV cameras… You can put in all the target hardening measures you like into these dairies but people are still taking these great risks,” Bradley said.

But I have a problem with all of this. First of all, my sympathy goes to dairy owners who have done nothing wrong, other than try to make a living, but they are suffering and at the very best are going to lose a significant part of their income because of very poor government policy. And the government solution is half-baked at best, and probably largely ineffectual for the most part.

But the other thing is this. No one has an answer. Once again, we just give in to violence, and because the police and the government cannot enforce the law, innocent people suffer as a result. They just throw their hands in the air while business owners are attacked. And nobody is doing anything about it.

There are no winners here. You may say that it will be better in the long run, as smokers will be forced to give up and everyone will be happy and healthy. But dairy owners will not be happy at all. And all I have to do is to mention Prohibition in the 1920s in the US to remind you that when people are addicted to something, they will find it, one way or another.

And, do you want to know the really silly part?

“We’re trying to encourage the Government to settle the legislation around vaping, which has been in the market for quite a few years and is a much less harmful alternative to smoking.

“It will eventually decrease the demand for tobacco, and may see smaller displays, smaller stock holdings, and may lead to a point where people are able to run a convenience store and not sell tobacco.”

Vaping is treated in much the same way as methamphetamine. OK, I exaggerate: slightly. There is a vaping shop on the High Street, close to my office. There are so many restrictions and warnings in the windows of the shop, it puts most people off. Vaping appears to be frowned upon far more than smoking. For reasons I cannot figure out, vaping is actively discouraged, practically illegal and yet it is far less harmful than cigarettes.

That is not the point, however. I do not believe it is fair and reasonable to allow dairy owners, who work long hours for sometimes average returns, to bear the brunt of poorly thought out government policy, and the inability (or unwillingness) of the police to do anything substantial about the problem. All the experts seem to agree that the problem is only going to get worse.

Just wait until the day a dairy owner shoots and kills someone robbing his store. There will be a massive outcry, and the dairy owner will probably end up in jail. But strictly speaking, the dairy owner will be acting out of self-defence. It won’t be seen that way, of course. But what would you do if your livelihood was constantly under threat from thieves who don’t think twice about hitting you over the head, or pointing a gun at your chest? I’d learn to use a gun. And so will some of them. What other choice is there?


Credit: BoomSlang

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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.