– Hookah lounges are just like bars, restaurants and other businesses when it comes to the state law that prohibits smoking indoors.
Washington’s Smoking in Public Places law, or SIPP, was passed by voters in 2005 and prohibits smoking in public places and places of employment.
On Feb. 26, following a two-day trial in Snohomish County Superior Court, downtown Everett’s Hideout Hookah Lounge, also known as the Wetmore Café, was ordered to comply with the law by prohibiting indoor smoking by its patrons. In addition, the court levied fines of $89,100 against the business owners for intentionally violating the law for months and ignoring repeated warnings from the Snohomish Health District, which brought the lawsuit. The business was also ordered to pay certain additional court costs.
A hookah is a glass pipe filled with water that is used for smoking flavored tobacco, often by several people at once. Hookah is a growing trend that has the attention of public health because it attracts young people to a dangerous habit.
“Smoke is smoke,” testified Snohomish Health District Health Officer Dr. Gary Goldbaum. “Hookah tobacco may smell sweet and be cheaper than cigarettes, but it is no less harmful or addictive. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.
“We are glad this ruling makes it clear that hookah is not a potential business opportunity – it’s an unhealthy behavior that people can choose to do in private, but they can’t expose other people to it,” Goldbaum said.
The court determined that smoking in the Hideout Hookah Lounge resulted in smoke permeating adjoining public uses within the building, directly in violation of SIPP’s goal of protecting people from secondhand smoke. The ruling also established that charging a membership fee or providing a membership card does not make the Lounge a private club. In addition, since it was established that the Hideout Hookah Lounge is a public place and a for-profit business, employees need to be protected from secondhand smoke under the SIPP law. Workers are defined as employees under state law even if they “volunteer” for no pay.
Health District staff made several initial visits to the Hideout Hookah Lounge in February 2012, shortly after the business opened as the first of its kind in Snohomish County. Staff attempted to educate the owners about SIPP requirements such as prohibiting indoor smoking, smoking at least 25 feet from doors, windows and air intakes, and posting “no smoking” signs which were provided by the Health District. City of Everett police and the state Liquor Control Board were also involved in seeking to enforce the state’s no indoor smoking ban
Thirteen follow-up inspection visits and numerous letters and notices directing the business to stop allowing indoor smoking were issued by the Health District before it filed the lawsuit in June 2012.
“It’s important that we provide a level playing field for all businesses that comply with the law,” explained Snohomish Health District Tobacco Program and Healthy Communities specialist Ann-Gale Peterson.
Snohomish Health District officials continue to work with county and city staff to ensure that potential business owners and code enforcement officers understand that SIPP prohibits smoking in all public places and in places of employment.
“Our goal is to educate and gain compliance with businesses through cooperation,” Peterson said. “We always hope to avoid court action and consider it a last resort when all other options for enforcement have failed,” she continued.
To report SIPP violations or learn more about local tobacco programs, call the Snohomish Health District Tobacco Resource Line at 425.339.5237. The state Tobacco Quit Line may be reached at 1.800.QUITNOW (800.784.8669).
Established in 1959, the Snohomish Health District works for a safer and healthier Snohomish County through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats. Find more information about the Health Board and the Health District at http://www.snohd.org.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash.