King County hookah bars warned to stop all smoking

SEATTLE - Six hookah bars in Seattle have been put on notice for violating Washington's public smoking law.

Officials with the King County Health Department say the establishments were sent a Notice and Order this week, which requires the lounges to stop all smoking or face hefty fines and possible closure.

The orders where sent to the Casablanca Shisha Lounge, Da Spot Hookah Lounge, Medina Hookah Lounge, The Night Owl, Sahara Hookah Lounge and Seattle Hookah Lounge.

Investigators say they have visited the lounges on multiple occasions and have sent warnings to all, but the warnings have gone ignored.

"We are forced to take this enforcement action because they haven't been responsive to our previous warnings," says Dr. David Fleming, the Director and Health Officer for Public Health in a statement.

"Our investigation shows that these hookah bars are violating the law, and endangering the health of their workers and patrons," says Fleming.

The Seattle Hookah Lounge is well aware of visits by the county health investigators.

"They've come in on Friday nights and go through our membership logs," says Janet, one of the operators of the Seattle Hookah Lounge. Janet requested her last name not be used.

She believes her lounge complies with all laws and should be allowed to continue because it's a private club. The Seattle Hookah lounge charges a yearly membership fee of five dollars.

"It's just like going to a gym, you buy a membership, you go to work out, so you come in here to smoke hookah," says Janet. " Our members know what goes on in here."

But health officials say state law doesn't exempt private clubs from the law.

"It simply says an establishment could allow smoking if it was not open to the public," says Scott Neal, the Tobacco Prevention Program Manager for Public Health.

Health officials say private clubs allow for the public to join, and that doesn't make them exempt. Also, lounges are in violation if anyone working at a lounge, whether they get paid or not, is exposed to secondhand smoke.

Janet believes her lounge is not in violation because nobody smokes tobacco.

"It's tea leaves, it's not tobacco like cigarette tobacco, it's not the same," says Janet.

But Neal disagrees.

"The common misconception is that hookah smoking is not tobacco smoking. It is very much tobacco smoking, and has the same addiction potential as traditional cigarettes," says Neal.

Janet says she hasn't received the Notice of Order from the county. If she does, she says she believes the owners will fight to keep the lounge open.

Neal says hookah lounges in King County have grown from 2 to 15 over the last couple of years.