08/31/2012 09:17 EDT | Updated 10/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Targa Newfoundland car rally in cigarette logo flap

Health Canada is investigating whether the Targa Newfoundland car rally violated the Tobacco Act when a driver in the 2011 event wore a racing suit with a cigarette logo.

Doug Mepham, one of the Targa Newfoundland founders and a spokesman for the race, said Thursday the logo was on a vintage fire suit purchased at a charity auction and worn during the rally by Zahir Rana.

Rana got worldwide media attention when he crashed his $2.3-million, one-of-a-kind Enzo Ferrari into in a tidal river in Marystown on Sept. 15, 2011.

A video showing the crash and its aftermath went viral on YouTube, generating almost 2.5 million views.

Mepham said he thinks that was the origin of the complaints about the tobacco logo.

"He was caught on camera wading out of the river in Marystown past his sinking Ferrari and the fire suit had a tobacco logo on the back of it," said Mepham.

Tobacco Act has specific guidelines

A letter from Health Canada to Targa organizers that was dated Aug. 21 said Sect. 24 of the Tobacco Act states "no person may display a tobacco product-related brand element or the name of a tobacco manufacturer in a promotion that is used, directly or indirectly, in the sponsorship of a person, entity, event, or permanent facility."

Mepham said Targa Newfoundland was not required to regulate what Rana or other drivers were wearing.

"You have people coming from all over the country, North America, Europe to attend this event, said Mepham. "'Hi, welcome to Newfoundland, show me your pyjamas.' It just doesn't seem like a reasonable request."

Mepham added that Targa Newfoundland has never had any relationship with a tobacco company during its 10-year history, and as far as Targa organizers can recall, no competitors have ever had tobacco company sponsorship, advertising or promotional assistance.

In an email to CBC, an official from Health Canada said that the department is aware of the logo displayed on the fire suit, but he would not be able to comment on any investigation.

Mepham said Targa Newfoundland will co-operate with Health Canada's investigation, but he is concerned that it could disrupt this year's event, which goes Sept. 8-15.