Campaigning retailer Steve Denham says the Department of Health (DH) is using outdated data to justify targeting retailers as the source of tobacco products to children.

Steve, of West Chiltington in West Sussex, wrote to health minister Gillian Merron to enlist her support for his 'Calling Time on Underage Sales' campaign which aims to demonstrate that local stores are an ally rather than an enemy in the battle against youth smoking (Convenience Store, August 7).

In a written reply, a member of the DH customer service team said: "Tobacco retailers are still the largest source of obtaining cigarettes for young people," and quoted statistics from the government's Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control which showed that, in 2006, 78% of children between aged 1115 who smoked obtained their cigarettes from shops.

However, Steve points out that in the DH's own Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People for 2008, underage smokers said they were more likely be given cigarettes by other people (63%) or buy them from others (45%) than buy them from shops (44%). Only 36% claimed to have bought cigarettes from newsagents.

Furthermore, there is no data to suggest the relative frequency of use of these sources, Steve said.

In an angry response to the minister, he wrote: "Making assumptions from an incomplete data set about how badly legitimate retailers perform is not reasonable. Responding on data collected in 2006, when the research from 2008 has clearly superseded it, is insulting."

Steve told C-Store: "To say that I was angered by such levels of misinformation from the DH is an understatement. "It undermines both the department's credibility and its professionalism."

Steve's campaign calls for the existing 'No ID No Sale' initiative to be extended to include a nationally-recognised staff training programme with a test and certification process.