Citing the need to protect public health, King County officials have sent notices to six hookah lounges in Seattle ordering them to stop allowing patrons to smoke from water pipes on their premises.
The move, covering hookah lounges scattered throughout the city, came after multiple inspections found violations of the state’s indoor-smoking ban passed by voters in 2005.
“Our investigation shows that these hookah bars are violating the law, and endangering the health of their workers and patrons,” Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health — Seattle and King County, said in a written statement Thursday.
“Secondhand smoke is proven killer, and state law works to protect everyone from this health threat,” Fleming said.
Notices were sent to the lounges Tuesday, which require immediate compliance as well as the payment of $100 fines for each violation. More violations could result in additional steps, including court action, the health department said.
Hookah bars, rooted in ancient Indian and Middle Eastern culture, have maintained they are exempt from the smoking ban because they operate as private clubs that collect membership fees.
But county health officials found the six lounges were open to the public, operating similarly to nightclubs that charge a cover fee.
Health officials said research shows hookah smoking is at least as harmful as cigarette smoke, even with the common practice of mixing the tobacco with sweet fruit and candy flavors.
Hookah use has gained in popularity, especially among young people, with use among King County high-school seniors higher than for cigarettes, health officials said. The percentage is 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively, they said.
“We are very concerned about the high hookah use rates among youth,” said Scott Neal, tobacco prevention manager for the health department. “Sweet fruit and candy flavors lure youth and help fuel the misperception that hookah smoking is safer than cigarettes.”
Businesses that received notices were Casablanca Shisha Lounge; Da Spot Hookah Lounge; Medina Hookah Lounge; The Night Owl; Sahara Hookah Lounge; and Seattle Hookah Lounge.
They have 10 days from receipt of the notices to appeal or 30 days to pay the fines.
Health officials said tobacco use is the top cause of preventable death and disease in King County, annually costing 2,000 lives and $343 million dollars in health costs and lost wages locally every year.