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Tobacco firm 'sorry' for free cigs at Oxegen

One of the country's biggest cigarette companies has said it regrets giving free cigarettes to bands performing at this year's Oxegen festival.

John Player, which said it had a commercial arrangement with MCD, the festival's promoters, had been asked to make cigarettes available to artists in their backstage dressing rooms.

"We accept that this was wrong and should not have happened," the statement said. "It is not our policy to distribute free product to the general public. This was a genuine error and we will ensure it does not happen again."

Dr Angie Brown, of anti-tobacco campaigners ASH Ireland, said complaints against MCD and a Temple Bar venue have been made to the Office of Tobacco Control and Health Minister Mary Harney.

"ASH Ireland is concerned that the tobacco industry will use every means possible, with the vast profits at their disposal, to bridge the gap in marketing created by the removal of tobacco advertising and promotion from retail outlets," cardiologist Dr Brown said.

"For each smoker who dies, the tobacco industry must recruit another young person and ensure this person becomes addicted," she added.

Hostesses

Dr Brown said she had been informed hostesses in the VIP artists' reception area at Oxegen were presenting free cigarettes from trays to those present.

Oxegen promoters MCD insisted cigarettes were only distributed at the request of artists.

"No complimentary cigarettes were issued in any public area of Oxegen 2010, which is an over-17s event," said a spokesman. "Those issued within the bands' private dressing room area formed part of the artists' rider.

"It is not illegal to sell cigarettes or to have only one brand available. It is not logistically possible to have a selection available."

MCD said while its commercial arrangements are private and confidential, no commercial agreement has ever involved the distribution of free cigarettes to the general public.

Elsewhere, Dr Brown said a second complaint centred on a venue in Temple Bar where employees of the hospitality industry were each given a wrist band by the organisers -- from the tobacco industry -- and in turn given 20 free cigarettes.

The Office of Tobacco Control said while it and the HSE investigate all formal complaints received in relation to breaches of the Public Health (Tobacco) Acts, it refused to comment on any matters under investigation.

hnews@herald.ie