Citing a public health threat, the Seattle & King County health department has notified six hookah lounges that they must ban smoking or face lawsuits. Which is to say, because a hookah lounge without smoking isn't a hookah lounge and lacks function nor revenue, the health department is busting them. Doctor David Fleming, the health department director, explains in a statement this morning, "We are forced to take this enforcement action because they haven’t been responsive to our previous warnings."
The hooka lounges, where folks smoke flavored tobacco through a water bubbler, allegedly violate the state law against smoking in public places where people are employed. County inspectors reportedly "found patrons smoking and each of the bars operating as a public place and/or place of employment."
The places hit are: Casablanca Shisha Lounge, Da Spot Hookah Lounge, Medina Hookah Lounge, The Night Owl, Sahara Hookah Lounge, and Seattle Hookah Lounge.
The county explains in a statement: "Hookah bars have claimed that they are exempt from the indoor smoking law because they are private clubs. However, smoking is prohibited by law if a club has employees and/or the club is open to the public. The investigation found that these six bars are all open to the public, operating similarly to night clubs that charge a cover for admission."
The county also makes a pretty radical claim that, although I see it stated online, seems implausible: "During a typical 45-minute session of hookah use," the county claims, "a person may inhale as much smoke as smoking 100 cigarettes or more."
Six Seattle hookah bars receive order for violating public smoking law
Six hookah bars in Seattle are on notice for violating Washington’s Smoking in Public Places law. Public Health – Seattle & King County sent each of the establishments a Notice and Order on Tuesday, October 1, requiring them to stop allowing smoking. To protect public health, state law requires that all places of employment and public places are smoke-free.
Health inspectors visited the hookah bars multiple times. They found patrons smoking and each of the bars operating as a public place and/or place of employment.
“Our investigation shows that these hookah bars are violating the law, and endangering the health of their workers and patrons. We are forced to take this enforcement action because they haven’t been responsive to our previous warnings,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Secondhand smoke is a proven killer, and state law works to protect everyone from this health threat.”
Hookah bars have claimed that they are exempt from the indoor smoking law because they are private clubs. However, smoking is prohibited by law if a club has employees and/or the club is open to the public. The investigation found that these six bars are all open to the public, operating similarly to night clubs that charge a cover for admission.
Each of the establishments received multiple warnings from inspectors, but they have not complied with Washington law. The Notice and Orders require immediate compliance plus payment of fines and fees. The fine for each violation is $100, in addition to escalating re-inspection fees after the first warning. Subsequent violations will result in additional steps to ensure that state law is followed, including possible court action.
Hookah is a water pipe commonly used to smoke tobacco. Research shows that hookah smoking is at least as harmful as cigarette smoke, even when mixed with sweet fruit and candy flavors.
The establishments have ten days from receipt of the Notice and Order if they wish to appeal or 30 days to pay the fines and re-inspection fees.
Hookah bars receiving a Notice and Order this week include:
Hookah health threat
Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death and disease in King County, costing nearly 2,000 lives and $343 million dollars in health costs and lost wages locally every year.
Hookah is a water-pipe commonly used to smoke tobacco, often mixed with sweet fruit and candy flavors.
Research shows that hookah smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarettes and that hookah smoke is at least as harmful as cigarette smoke.
During a typical 45-minute session of hookah use, a person may inhale as much smoke as smoking 100 cigarettes or more.
Hookah smoke contains the addictive drug nicotine, along with tar, carcinogens, and heavy metals.
Hookah smoking has been associated with lung cancer, oral cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness, periodontal disease, and low birthweight.
Sharing a hookah mouthpiece can transmit infectious diseases, including tuberculosis.
Hookah and youth
Hookah use has seen a rise in popularity, especially among youth. According to the 2012 Healthy Youth Survey, hookah use among King County high school seniors is higher than cigarette use (15% and 12%, respectively).
‘We are very concerned about the high hookah use rates among youth,” said Scott Neal, Tobacco Prevention Program Manager for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Sweet fruit and candy flavors lure youth and help fuel the misperception that hookah smoking is safer than cigarettes.”
Report smoking law violations
To report violations, visit the Tobacco Prevention Program page for an online form; or text the establishment’s name, date of violation, and brief description of the violation to 206-745-2548.