Musicians under fire over tobacco-sponsored Indonesia shows

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Health experts appealed Thursday for rock bands including The Smashing Pumpkins and Stereophonics to cancel performances at a tobacco-sponsored music festival in Indonesia this weekend.

They said the international bands, including acts from Australia, Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States, would be complicit in boosting addiction rates among children in the developing country if they play.

"This event will surely raise the number of smokers, especially young people," Indonesia's National Anti-Tobacco Coalition secretary-general Suhardi told AFP.

"As we know very well, music events are ... a very effective tool for tobacco companies to lure (young) customers.

"We also know that tobacco advertisements are one of the main factors behind the high growth of smoking rates here."

Indonesia is one of the world's most relaxed markets for tobacco companies, which are capitalising on its laissez-faire regulatory framework to increase sales and make up for declining consumption in traditional Western markets.

The government earns billions of dollars a year in tax revenues from tobacco companies, which employ millions of people across the country.

Cigarette consumption in the Southeast Asian archipelago soared 47 percent in the 1990s, according to the World Health Organisation.

Major Western brands cost about one dollar for a pack of 20 in Indonesia, yet cigarettes are often the second biggest item of household expenditure after food for the country's poorest families.

In all, 14 foreign bands are scheduled to play at the Java Rockin'Land festival from Friday to Sunday, along with a host of local acts.

Indonesian clove cigarette producer Gudang Garam is the major sponsor. Advertising for the event includes cigarette branding, with the catch-phrase "Can you handle it?"

Anti-tobacco activists and health experts from Australia, the United States and Britain have condemned the bands' actions, saying they are effectively encouraging children to smoke.