Targa officials perplexed over tobacco sponsorship accusation

James McLeod
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Zahir Rana likes to wear his racing suit, previously worn by Formula 1 driver Rubens Barrichello, at events. But because he wore it at Targa last year, the event is being investigated for prohibited tobacco sponsorship. - Photo courtesy of Zahir Rana

Targa Newfoundland organizers are scratching their heads and scrambling as they face a federal investigation into possible tobacco advertising.

Robert Giannou, president of Targa, said they've been getting a steady slough of calls from the Health Canada Tobacco Control Program.

Giannou said they aren't sponsored by any cigarette companies, and the whole thing seems to be a very inconvenient misunderstanding involving a sentimental suit and a half-submerged Ferrari.

Last year, driver Zahir Rana - driving a Ferrari Enzo - went off the road and into the water. Photos of him standing on the bank looking at his wrecked super car were circulated across the country and around the world.

The thing is, Rana was wearing a bright red Formula 1 racing suit - once owned and worn by driver Rubens Barrichello - which has a big Marlboro logo on the back.

"It was never intended to advertise cigarettes. For me it's a special suit from a special man," Rana said. "I wear it and it makes me feel great."

Rana has worn the suit many times before, including at a "Race the Base" event he's done at the Canadian Forces Cold Lake base, where he races his Ferrari Enzo against an Air Force jet to raise money for charity.

He wore the Barrichello suit at the Race the Base event earlier this month, and he wore it at the same event two years ago.

"I had a ton of media coverage. I was on CBC national, I was on Discovery Channel for a 15-minute documentary," Rana said. "I had so much press on that, and I wore my suit and my hat and nobody ever said anything about that."

He said the idea Targa is being investigated for tobacco sponsorship is just "stupid."

Race organizers don't think too highly of it either, but it's causing them a significant headache.

Giannou said they've been getting a steady stream of aggressive, accusatory phone calls from the federal government.

They haven't received a formal request from the investigator, but Giannou said they're more than happy to turn over their financial books, which would show Targa gets no money from Marlboro or any other cigarette company.

Instead, the investigator who keeps calling is talking about coming down during Targa this year, Giannou said, and interviewing competitors and organizers.

He said he's worried about that, because everybody is really busy while the event is underway, and the whole thing could be really disruptive.

"If I was suspicious enough, I would say someone is looking for a trip to Newfoundland to see Targa," Giannou said.

A spokesman for Health Canada declined to comment on the specifics of the Targa situation, except to confirm it is aware a tobacco logo was being displayed during the 2011 event.

"When Health Canada receives a complaint, or becomes aware of a situation where Health Canada inspectors have reasonable grounds to believe that the act has been contravened, the inspectors assess compliance and follow up appropriately," the spokesman said. "Health Canada's first response is to promote compliance. In the case of an observed contravention of the promotion restrictions under the Tobacco Act, inspectors have the authority to issue warnings or refer the case for prosecution."

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Health Canada, Air Force, CBC Discovery Channel

Geographic location: Targa, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • JP
    September 04, 2012 - 21:08

    I guess they will have to investigate 'Race the Base' too judging by the photo above... Plus with every article written on the subject, Marlbro is getting it name repeated. Oops! Did I just advertise Marlbro by writing that? Where does the madness end?!!

  • Lori
    September 04, 2012 - 05:50

    He's just coming down to take in the race. If it's hailed as an 'investigation', he can come watch the race with everything paid for. He's just blowing smoke. Go Targa!

  • Steamer
    September 03, 2012 - 19:05

    Absolute idiocy... This just goes to show how far we have gone over the edge on our anti-tobacco crusade. No money changed hands, Targa is not involved, the tobacco company is not involved, and the driver didn't mean to cause a fuss. (He probably didn't even think about it) We have real crimes and contraventions of health acts happening all around us and the government is stuck on an unofficial racing suit. I wish the government would either use common sense and stop the PC nonsense OR stop the hypocrisy and ban tobacco outright... No - they too are addicted to the sin taxes that smokers provide and they'll never give that up willingly. They will continue with empty gestures like this "investigation" while they happily take their tobacco dollars to the bank...

  • California Pete from NFLD
    September 03, 2012 - 14:09

    So what .They have nothing better to do !!! I have a F1 MARLBRO jacket now I can't wear it in Canada. Give it up get a life

  • Jack
    September 02, 2012 - 14:49

    Why does it seem that Law Enforcement agencies are acting so stupid these days? First, you have the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary whom doesn't know how to read the laws, and then charge a mentally challenged man for driving an e-bike. Second, you have Colin Oram whom fight face criminal charges for shooting a bear on his property. Now, you have Health Canada targeting Targa Newfoundland for something they didn't do. When will officers start being smart instead of acting dumb like they are now?

  • Jeremiah
    September 02, 2012 - 14:39

    Targa is dangerous to the general public, of little benefit to the province, a nuisance to the motoring public and not worth the problems it causes.

  • geezer
    September 02, 2012 - 10:28

    I'd say TARGA hit the nail on the head, someone looking for a free trip to the races.

  • Marie
    September 02, 2012 - 05:49

    Well, I love to see our tax dollars being put to good use! I say we order a full on investigation into this matter. I'd say Health Canada should send three inspectors down, all expenses paid and give them an additional $33.50 on top of their regular salary to account for isolation pay, just to get to the bottom of this pressing matter.........

  • Upalong Bob
    September 01, 2012 - 19:46

    I just love how hard earned tax dollars are being spent on something so stupid.

  • J
    September 01, 2012 - 18:22

    This is one of those cases were bureaucracy run amok. Heaven forbid a legal product be advertised - which clearly isn't the case here. I don't smoke either. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came...

  • Dawn O
    September 01, 2012 - 15:21

    Don't people have more important things to worry about than what logo is on a persons coveralls?????????????? And you wonder why the world is going to hell in a hand-basket!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!