27th July 2018, Volume 131 Number 1479

Martin Witt, Amanda Dodd, Heather Kimber, Hannah M Mulrine, Christina K Lewis, Emily Box

Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 is a commitment by the New Zealand Government to reduce smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels by 2025.1,2 The New Zealand Health Strategy states that “the Government intends to put a range of measures in place to accelerate New Zealand’s progress towards the goal of making New Zealand smokefree”.3 Effective tobacco control requires a number of coordinated evidence-based responses, and several measures have been implemented in recent years, including tobacco excise tax increases, smokefree environment policies and the removal of point-of-sale tobacco displays.4,5 However, the current ‘business-as-usual’ approach is likely to be insufficient to meet the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal, particularly for Māori.6–8

With this in mind, further strategies to support government action on tobacco control include reducing the number of tobacco retail outlets (including supermarkets, dairies and service stations) to limit the supply of tobacco in the community.8,9 It is estimated that interventions to reduce the number of tobacco retail outlets in New Zealand could make a crucial contribution to a smokefree Aotearoa by reducing the availability of tobacco, decreasing smoking prevalence, denormalising tobacco and its use, achieving health gains and cost savings for the health system, and decreasing inequities.10–13 As such, reducing the number of tobacco retail outlets should be pursued as part of a comprehensive public health advocacy strategy in the tobacco control sector.

Retailers choosing not to sell tobacco products (tobacco-free retailing) is gaining momentum in parts of New Zealand14 and overseas.15–17 Recently, a Tobacco-free Retailers Toolkit was developed and promoted nationally as a guide to support health promoters and community groups to advocate for tobacco-free retailing in their local areas.14 Some regions have made good progress; Northland, for example, has at least 18 tobacco-free retailers (mainly dairies, service stations and takeaway food outlets) as of September 2017.14

In New Zealand, dairies are the most numerous type of tobacco retail outlet,18 and previous qualitative research suggests that this particular group of tobacco retailers rely heavily on tobacco sales.19,20 Therefore it is especially important to understand how potential strategies to reduce the number of tobacco retail outlets may impact this group of retailers. The aim of this exploratory study was to obtain current information on the views of dairy owners/managers regarding tobacco retailing, tobacco outlet licensing and interest in becoming a tobacco-free retailer, to inform national and local smokefree advocacy work.



For this study, the term ‘dairy’ includes small corner stores and larger convenience stores/mini-marts that sell a range of food and household products. These types of premises were the focus of the survey as they are the most common type of tobacco retail outlet in New Zealand,18 and are reported to rely heavily on tobacco sales.19 Our sampling frame was all dairies in Christchurch; we focused on Christchurch firstly as a convenience sample, and secondly because we intended for the data to inform future local advocacy strategies. The contact details of dairies known to sell tobacco products in the Christchurch City Territorial Authority were requested from the Smokefree Enforcement Officer at Community & Public Health (the Public Health Unit for the Canterbury District Health Board), who updates and maintains an electronic record of tobacco retail outlets. A total of 165 dairies were included in the list (as of 26 November 2015). Eight dairies were excluded from the survey as they were on the outskirts of the Territorial Authority where it was considered unfeasible to visit face-to-face given resource constraints. Therefore, a total of 157 dairies were considered eligible to participate in the survey.


The questionnaire was drafted by the project team after initial discussions with two external academic researchers. It included closed-ended questions with fixed response options on business characteristics, customer tobacco-purchasing behaviour, feelings about selling tobacco products, sales and profits from tobacco products, level of concern about tobacco products being a security risk and level of interest in becoming a tobacco-free retailer. Open-ended questions on the perceived need for tobacco licensing, and challenges and benefits of tobacco-free retailing, were also included. The questionnaire was pre-tested at a dairy not eligible to participate.

A notification postcard was sent in advance to all eligible dairies, outlining the purpose of the survey and stating that the dairy may receive a telephone call inviting them to participate. All eligible dairies (n=157) were telephoned, and if contact could not be made after five calls on different occasions, dairies were not pursued any further. On contact, the dairy owner or manager was provided with a description of what the survey involved, and was invited to participate. On agreement to participate, a time for a face-to-face interview was made. Face-to-face interviews were conducted between 1 February and 7 March 2016 by five research assistants. An additional volunteer whose first language was Mandarin provided support to interview Mandarin-speaking dairy owners where language was identified as a barrier to participation.


SPSSâ Statistics for Windows (version 22, IBM Corp, NY) was used for the descriptive quantitative analysis of categorical variables. Some respondents did not answer all questions, and percentages were calculated excluding missing responses. Open-ended comments were analysed using a content analysis,21 where general topic categories/codes were identified from the responses, and their frequency of use among the respondents counted. The neighbourhood deprivation score (using NZDep2013)22 of the location of each dairy was determined at 2013 Census mesh block level and decile scores were collapsed into quintiles.


It was determined that Health and Disability Ethics Committee review was not necessary given that the criteria requiring such review were not met.23 The study was considered low-risk as responses were confidential and anonymous, and those invited could decline to participate, or choose not to answer any particular question, if they wished.


Survey response

Of the 157 eligible dairies contacted, there was no response for 23 dairies, the owner/manager was not available for a further 20 dairies, and two dairies were no longer trading (Figure 1). Of the 112 owners/managers of eligible dairies invited to participate in the survey, 62 (55.4%) agreed to participate and completed a questionnaire.

Figure 1: Sample recruitment process.


Respondent characteristics

Two-thirds of survey respondents were the owner of the dairy, and an additional 27% were the manager (Table 1). All dairies were independently owned, except one, which was a locally-owned franchise. Participating dairies were located across Christchurch, predominantly in neighbourhoods with moderate-to-high deprivation scores. Most dairies did not have any staff (ie, the respondent and/or other staff members) who were current smokers.

Table 1: Characteristics of respondents and their business (n=62).



% (n)

Respondent’s position in business


66.1 (41)


27.4 (17)


6.5 (4)

Dairy ownership status


98.4 (61)

Locally-owned franchise

1.6 (1)

Dairy neighbourhood deprivation score*

Quintile 1

6.5 (4)

Quintile 2

16.1 (10)

Quintile 3

25.8 (16)

Quintile 4

29.0 (18)

Quintile 5

22.6 (14)

Dairy has staff who smoke


19.4 (12)


79.0 (49)

Don’t know

1.6 (1)

+Other respondents were employees or family members who were delegated by the dairy owner/manager to participate in the survey.
*Using NZDep2013, where quintile 1 represents areas with the lowest deprivation scores and quintile 5 represents areas with the highest deprivation scores. 

Views on tobacco retailing (closed-ended questions)

Respondents were asked how they felt about selling tobacco products, and half (50.8%, n=31) chose the statement “I feel OK about selling tobacco products”, while 18% (n=11) chose “I would prefer not to sell tobacco products” (Table 2). Almost one-third of respondents (31.1%, n=19) selected the statement “I don’t really think about it”.

Table 2: Views on tobacco retailing.


Response options

% (n)

What phrase best describes how you feel about selling tobacco products?

I feel OK about selling tobacco products

50.8 (31)

I don’t really think about it

31.1 (19)

I would prefer not to sell tobacco products

18.0 (11)

How important to your business is selling tobacco products?

Not important

12.9 (8)

Somewhat important

17.7 (11)


46.8 (29)

Very important

22.6 (14)

Do you have any concerns about selling tobacco products being a security risk?

No concerns

35.5 (22)

Some concerns

35.5 (22)

A lot of concerns

29.0 (18)

Are you interested in becoming a tobacco-free retailer?


4.8 (3)


56.5 (35)


25.8 (16)

Don’t know

12.9 (8)

When asked to indicate how important selling tobacco products was to their business, a small number of respondents (12.9%, n=8) felt it was “not important” (Table 2). The remaining respondents felt that selling tobacco products was “somewhat important” (17.7%, n=11), “important” (46.8%, n=11) or “very important” (22.6%, n=14) to their business.

Respondents were asked if they had any concerns about selling tobacco products being a security risk, and just over one-third (35.5%, n=22) had “no concerns” (Table 2). However, the same percentage of respondents (35.5%, n=22) had “some concerns”, and a further 29% (n=18) had “a lot of concerns”. Twenty dairies (32.3%) reported that they had been broken into in the previous year and had tobacco products stolen.

Tobacco product sales (closed-ended questions)

Respondents were asked to indicate approximately what percentage of their customers purchased tobacco products (from pre-defined categories). Eighteen percent of respondents (n=11) indicated less than one quarter, and almost half of respondents (47.5%, n=29) thought that 25–50% of their customers purchased tobacco products (Table 3). Approximately one in five respondents (19.7%, n=12) thought that more than half of their customers purchased tobacco products, and nine respondents did not know.

Table 3: Tobacco product sales.


Response options

% (n)

How many of your customers buy tobacco products?


18.0 (11)


47.5 (29)


19.7 (12)

Don’t know

14.8 (9)

Approximately what percentage of your sales comes from tobacco products?


6.6 (4)


26.2 (16)


34.4 (21)


18.0 (11)

Don’t know

14.8 (9)

Approximately what percentage of your profit comes from the sale of tobacco products?


11.7 (7)


43.3 (26)


10.0 (6)


21.7 (13)

Don’t know

13.3 (8)

Participants were asked to indicate what percentage of their sales and profits came from tobacco products (from pre-defined categories). While 18% of respondents (n=11) thought that more than half of their sales came from tobacco products, more than one-third of respondents (34.4%, n=21) thought this figure was more like 31–50%. Approximately one-quarter of participants (26.6%, n=16) thought that approximately 10–30% of their sales came from tobacco products, and four respondents (6.6%) thought it was less than 10%. Several respondents (14.8%, n=9) did not know.

Fifty-five percent of respondents (n=33) thought that less than 10% of their profit came from the sale of tobacco products. In addition, 10% of respondents (n=6) estimated that 10–15% of profit was from tobacco product sales, and 22% (n=13) estimated that the profit was more than 15%. Eight respondents (13.0%) did not know.

Interest in tobacco-free retailing (closed-ended questions)

When asked if they were interested in becoming a tobacco-free retailer, more than half of respondents (56.5%, n=35) indicated that “no”, they were not interested (Table 2). One-quarter of respondents (25.8%, n=16) were “maybe” interested, and three respondents (4.8%) stated that “yes”, they were interested in becoming a tobacco-free retailer.

Respondents were asked whether several different factors might encourage them to become a tobacco-free retailer. Approximately 40% of respondents stated that “support from the local council” (n=25), “positive feedback from other tobacco-free dairies” (n=24), “other dairies also becoming tobacco-free” (n=24) and “support from customers and the community” (n=24) would encourage them to become a tobacco-free retailer. Fewer respondents thought that having “clear signage made available to dairies” (16.4%, n=10) or “positive media coverage” (16.4%, n=10) would encourage them to become a tobacco-free retailer.

Perceived challenges and benefits of tobacco-free retailing (open-ended questions)

When asked for comments on what challenges there might be in becoming a tobacco-free retailer, many respondents (n=41) reported the potential loss of profits and a negative impact on business. It was mentioned that there was strong competition from supermarkets, and customers often bought other items when they came in to purchase tobacco products. Nine respondents felt that their dairy “could not survive” without selling tobacco products, and some (n=18) thought that they may lose customers who would go elsewhere to buy tobacco products and other items instead.

When asked what benefits there might be in becoming a tobacco-free retailer, comments included improving the health of customers and/or the community (n=11) by decreasing the smoking rate and helping smoking cessation. Four respondents thought that customers may also benefit by saving money they would otherwise spend on tobacco products. It was mentioned that health and economic benefits would particularly impact children and young people (n=3). Respondents also mentioned positive safety-related aspects to not selling tobacco products (n=6), such as being safer for staff, and decreasing the risk of burglary and crime. Half of the respondents (n=31) thought that there were no benefits to becoming a tobacco-free retailer, or benefits would only be for customers and not their business (n=2).

Views on tobacco licensing (open-ended questions)

When asked to provide a comment about the possibility of requiring retailers to have a licence to sell tobacco products, some respondents thought that this was a “good idea” (n=12), and could work in a similar way to alcohol licensing. A similar number of respondents did not support the idea of a tobacco licence (n=12), as they thought it would incur extra costs, and may negatively impact their business. Several respondents felt that this type of licence was “unnecessary” (n=6), and “wouldn’t make a difference” (n=5). Some respondents thought that the introduction of a tobacco licence might be “OK” (n=13), but only if it were “necessary”. Four respondents did not know what they thought about retailers needing to have a licence to sell tobacco products.


The dairy owners and managers interviewed perceived tobacco as an established, even normal, part of their business. Most of those surveyed were either “OK” about selling tobacco or gave little thought to its sale. If regularly bought with bread, milk and other staples, then this arguably reinforces the normalcy of tobacco in the community. The majority reported that tobacco was important to their livelihood; half of all respondents estimated that between a quarter and half of their customers buy tobacco, and half believed that tobacco contributed to at least 30% of store sales. Despite the significance placed on tobacco by businesses, it is interesting to note that the prevailing view is that it yields little profit, with three-quarters of respondents estimating this to be 15% or less. From this observation, it is the purchase of other items along with tobacco products that leads dairy owners and managers to view tobacco as important to business. These findings resonate with other local qualitative studies citing tobacco products as important for enticing custom and maintaining the viability of tobacco retail outlets.19,20 However, findings from two studies of tobacco consumer purchasing behaviour challenge this assumption. A study of observed purchases in 120 urban corner stores in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania over a six-month period found that only 5% of purchases included both tobacco and non-tobacco products.24 In an analysis of electronic point-of-sales data from 1,416 convenience stores in the UK over one week in September 2015, 13% of purchases included both tobacco and non-tobacco products.25 In both studies, 8% of purchases were for tobacco products alone. Further, after removing the cost of tobacco products, customers who purchased tobacco products did not spend significantly more than those who do not purchase tobacco products.24,25 While it may not be possible to directly extrapolate these findings to a New Zealand setting, it highlights the need for local quantitative data on tobacco purchasing behaviours to inform the debate on the future of tobacco retailing. The apparent lack of support for tobacco-free retailing from dairy owners and managers in Christchurch also reflects the view that unless some form of regulatory framework is introduced, any voluntary reductions in retailer numbers is unlikely to be sufficient to achieve reductions in local supply.10 Other studies of tobacco retailers carried out in New Zealand support this viewpoint, and also suggest that retailers are not completely resistant to making the move to a more regulated approach such as tobacco retail outlet licensing.19,20,26

The study provides several implications at both local and national level. Firstly, although there was little support identified among respondents for tobacco-free retailing, one-quarter of businesses indicated that they might be interested, thereby raising the question as how best to motivate those who could be persuaded to stop selling tobacco. From factors identified in this study, it is argued that customer (smokers’) purchasing behaviour, and views of the public and retailers on tobacco regulation, all need to be better understood. In doing so, the understandable caution displayed by many retailers around the risks of not selling tobacco might be better addressed. As tobacco-free retailing is a relatively new area of focus for tobacco control in New Zealand, there is a lack of local published evidence of its impact on business outcomes, such as profits and customer numbers, with which to inform tobacco retail outlet owners. In addition, business owners may be reluctant to share this commercially sensitive data. Case studies included in the Tobacco-free Retailers Toolkit provide feedback from three dairies that stopped selling tobacco products.14 These dairy owners found that support from the community have been positive overall, profits have remained the same, and they would recommend tobacco-free retailing to other retailers. Qualitative studies of tobacco retailers in New South Wales16 and California15,17 who voluntarily stopped selling tobacco also reported a positive customer response, as well as no overall change in customer numbers. Most respondents had no major concern about loss of profits, but some mentioned that they could be losing incidental sales. In addition, there is public support for introducing tobacco retailer licensing, and reducing the number of tobacco retail outlets in New Zealand, specifically near schools.27,28 This community support and preliminary feedback from case studies of tobacco-free retailers could be employed by smokefree advocates to encourage retailers to take the step and become tobacco-free, and may also be important in helping to support the case for regulation to central government.

At the time of carrying out this study, the increasing incidence of dairy burglaries was considered to justify exploration of security issues. While no published studies can be found to substantiate links between the rising cost of tobacco and its value as a black-market commodity, the role of excise tax on the rising cost of tobacco has been documented.29 Although there is no indication that security concerns are encouraging retailers to stop selling tobacco at present, this study suggests that in the future there might be some appetite if support were seen to be forthcoming from customers, local authorities or other retailers who have decided to become tobacco free. Here, the role of regulation is cited as being important, along with responding to changing public attitudes, where tobacco is increasingly seen in negative terms and inconsistent with other products sold.15–17 Proposals to regulate tobacco to date have acknowledged the need to create “level playing fields” for businesses in the same way that smokefree environment legislation ensured all hospitality venues became smokefree indoors. This study points to the conclusion that unless consistency across all types of tobacco retail outlets is adopted and the sale of tobacco is regulated further, any progress in tobacco-free retailing is likely to be slow and piecemeal.

This study is limited to a small sample of dairy owners and managers in Christchurch who agreed to participate in the survey, and was developed specifically to inform local smokefree advocacy work. As such, the views described here do not necessarily reflect the views of all dairy owners and managers in New Zealand, and may not necessarily be able to be generalised to larger retail outlets (for example, supermarkets and service stations). However, respondents’ views do align with other New Zealand research with a wider range of tobacco retailers.19,20,26

In conclusion, this study poses a number of questions that must be better understood if New Zealand is to see a significant reduction in the supply of tobacco over the coming few years. To date, much of the advocacy undertaken has been focused on reducing the demand for tobacco and as such those working in tobacco control face arguably the greatest challenge to date to reorient the debate to include tobacco supply. Uniting growing public opinion around regulation with business attitudes and a willingness to see change will be essential if New Zealand is to achieve the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal.


Dairies in Christchurch were invited to take part in a face-to-face survey that aimed to capture the views of owners/managers concerning the sale of tobacco, its relative importance to their business and attitudes to tobacco-free retailing.



Given the Government’s commitment to reducing tobacco availability to minimal levels by 2025, finding ways to decrease the number of tobacco retailers is an important task. We assessed the perceived importance of selling tobacco among dairy owners and managers.


We conducted a face-to-face survey to explore retailers’ views on selling tobacco products, tobacco retailer licensing and tobacco-free retailing. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data.


Of the 112 individuals invited to participate, 62 (55.4%) completed the survey. Most respondents felt that selling tobacco was important for their business, and almost two-thirds had concerns about tobacco products being a security risk. Twice as many respondents thought tobacco retail outlet licensing was a potentially viable option as those who expressed caution. Almost one-third of respondents were potentially interested in becoming a tobacco-free retailer.


Selling tobacco products is perceived as important for many dairies, and just over half were not interested in becoming a tobacco-free retailer. However, there is some support among dairy owners/managers for tobacco product licensing. These findings strengthen the case for regulatory measures to decrease tobacco availability, as voluntary adoption of tobacco-free retailing is unlikely to result in substantial reductions in outlet numbers.

Author Information

Martin Witt, Manager Health Promotion and IT Services, Cancer Society of New Zealand Canterbury-West Coast Division Inc., Christchurch; Amanda Dodd, Deputy Health Promotion Manager, Cancer Society of New Zealand Canterbury-West Coast Division Inc., Christchurch;
Heather Kimber, Health Promoter, Community & Public Health, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch; Hannah M Mulrine, Public Health Analyst, Community & Public Health, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch; Christina K Lewis, Smokefree Enforcement Officer, Community & Public Health, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch; Emily Box, Health Promoter, Cancer Society of New Zealand Canterbury-West Coast Division Inc., Christchurch.


The authors wish to acknowledge Dr Lindsay Robertson (University of Otago), Dr Louise Marsh (University of Otago), and Dr Annabel Begg (Community & Public Health, Canterbury District Health Board) for their advice. We also wish to thank the survey respondents for their participation, and the Cancer Society research assistants and volunteers involved in participant recruitment and data collection.


Martin Witt, Cancer Society of New Zealand Canterbury-West Coast Division Inc., PO Box 13450, Christchurch 8141.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests



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