Former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson says she will perform in Indonesia despite growing protests Thursday from fans and anti-tobacco groups unhappy over a cigarette company's sponsorship of her upcoming show.
Clarkson said in a posting on her blog that she was surprised to learn that billboards announcing her April 29 concert in Jakarta were prominently branded with the logo of the popular cigarette L.A. Lights.
"Unfortunately, my only option at this point was to cancel the show in order to stop the sponsorship," she wrote. "I refuse to cancel on my fans."
She added that she's not a smoker and does not advocate it.
In a similar incident two years ago, Grammy winner Alicia Keys apologized to fans and denounced the sponsorship of her Indonesian concert by an affiliate of U.S. tobacco giant Philip Morris International. She went ahead with the show, but only after the cigarette logo was removed from her promotions.
Indonesia, a nation of 235 million people, is one of the final frontiers where tobacco companies are given virtual free rein when it comes to selling, advertising and promoting their products, practices long banned in the U.S. and many other countries. The Marlboro Man still rides high on huge billboards that cross four-lane highways.
Television commercials, sporting events, talent shows, even traffic police station booths are plastered with cigarette logos beside sexy images of beautiful and adventure-seeking people. Free samples are sometimes given out at events by young women dressed in matching short skirts.
Indonesia is one of the last holdouts in not signing on to the World Health Organization's tobacco treaty. About 63 percent of all men light up and a third of the country's entire population smokes. A quarter of boys age 13 to 15 are already hooked, and it is not uncommon to see boys as young as 8 puffing away.
The smoking debate has flared recently after the country's second-largest Islamic organization declared a fatwa, or religious ruling, banning smoking in the world's most-populous Muslim country. Though not legally binding and often disregarded by followers, anti-smoking advocates have seized the opportunity to push for tougher restrictions.
L.A. Lights company Djarum has declined to comment on the Clarkson controversy, and promoter Java Musikindo said they would make a statement in the near future.
In recent days, Clarkson's Facebook page has been flooded with fans begging her to reject the cigarette sponsorship, saying she is sending the wrong message to kids about smoking. Anti-tobacco groups have blasted the singer for using her image to sell products that kill 200,000 Indonesians every year. Clarkson fired back in her blog.
"I think the hardest part of situations like this is getting personally attacked for something I was completely unaware of and being used as some kind of political pawn," she wrote.
Anti-smoking advocates argue that there should be no double standards for American performers when they take their shows to developing countries.
"What's this?" said Mary Assunta, senior policy adviser for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. "You're not allowed to do this in the U.S. and you don't do it anywhere else in Asia, but you are comfortable doing it in Indonesia?"
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