Public Health - Seattle & King County filed an injunction against two hookah bars for exposing employees and the public to tobacco smoke.
Public Health – Seattle & King County has filed papers in King County Superior Court asking the court to stop two hookah bars for exposing employees and the public to tobacco smoke in violation of Washington's Smoking in Public Places Act and local Board of Health Code. The request for an injunction was filed against The Night Owl in Seattle's University District and Medina Hookah Lounge in south Seattle.
A hookah is a glass pipe filled with water that is used for smoking flavored tobacco, often by several people at once. During a typical 45-minute session of hookah use, a person may inhale as much smoke, tobacco and carcinogens as smoking 100 cigarettes or more.
Smoking in public places law
Washington's Smoking in Public Places law was passed by voters in 2005 and prohibits smoking in public places and places of employment. The local Board of Health code mirrors the state law and includes provisions that prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices.
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 an establishment has employees and/or the club is open to the public. A previous ruling by a King County Hearing Examiner on February 12, 2014 found that both the Night Owl and Medina are open to the public, operating similarly to night clubs that charge a cover for admission.
"Hookah smoke is as addictive as traditional cigarettes", said Patty Hayes, Interim Director, Public Health- Seattle & King County. "Asking the court for an injunction is a measure of last resort, but it is necessary now to ensure all our businesses are protecting the health of employees and the public."
Hookah use among teens
Hookah use is a growing concern, particularly given the rise in popularity among teens. Flavors may lure youth and help fuel the misperception that hookah smoking is safer than cigarettes.
Approximately 15% of high school seniors surveyed in King County in 2012 had used hookahs within the past monthslightly higher than the percent smoking traditional cigarettes.
The Night Owl and Medina received multiple warnings but have not complied with Washington law. Public Health issued a Notice and Order. Both lounges appealed their violation to the King County Hearing Examiner (KCHE). In February of 2014, the KCHE issued a decision to uphold violations identified each lounge to be a public place as defined by law.
Public Health offered the two lounges an opportunity to sign an operating agreement that would allow for use of non-combustible material such as steam stones and ensure minors are not allowed entry. Neither the Night Owl nor Medina have accepted the proposed operating agreements.
Providing effective and innovative health and disease prevention services for over 2 million residents and visitors of King County, Public Health Seattle & King County works for safer and healthier communities for everyone, every day.