Crackdown on hookah lounges in wake of Donnie Chin shooting

After the shooting death of International District leader Donnie Chin, supporters have rallied against hookah lounges, which have caused concern in the neighborhood. (Photo by Isaac Liu for the International Examiner.)

Two weeks after the shooting death of International District community leader Donnie Chin, Seattle officials announced a crackdown on smoking lounges that have caused concern in the community, including tax-related criminal charges against King’s Hookah Lounge.

Chin, who died after being shot in his car at 3 a.m. July 23 while driving near King’s, was concerned about the activity that the smoking lounges attracted to the International District in the wee hours of the morning, according to friends and supporters. Chin’s friends and residents of the International District told the Globalist that the smoking lounges, which can stay open later than other bars, have made the neighborhood feel unsafe.

At least two rallies calling for the closure of the hookah lounges have been organized by longtime friend of Chin and International District leader “Uncle Bob” Santos.

The crackdown includes the filing of criminal charges against King’s Hookah Lounge in connection with the failure to pay business taxes, according to a press release from Mayor Ed Murray’s office. If convicted, the penalties range up to a $5,000 fine and/or 364 days in jail, according to the release.

“Far too many smoking lounges attract and sustain illegal, violent activity that has no place in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Ed Murray in a prepared statement. “These establishments are unlawful businesses that continue to thumb their noses at the law. We will soon have additional authority to help us clamp down on operations that foster an environment that threatens public safety in our neighborhoods.”

Chin’s death is the latest of three over the past 18 months that have occurred near the smoking lounges, according to the press release, and other incidents include fights, assaults, shots fired and fatal shootings.

Ahmed A. Ali of the Somali Health Board says the group supports the crackdown on the smoking lounges.

“In light of the recent shootings around these bars, the stakes are higher now and we need the direct involvement of the city to tackle this matter,” he said in a prepared statement. “The SHB fully supports regulations and closures as these bars are detrimental to the health of our youth and the community’s well-being.”

The city’s crackdown is in coordination with Public Health—Seattle-King County. While the state’s tobacco laws allow smoking in clubs with a private membership, lounges that serve walk-in customers are in violation of state law. The penalty for being caught violating the ban on smoking in places of employment is a $100 fine, according to the city. According to the city, some of the bars that will face criminal charges have already been hit with fines for violations.

The mayor and City Attorney Pete Holmes say that they will work with the city council on an ordinance to prohibit any business that sells tobacco for use on their business premises.

There are currently 11 smoking lounges in Seattle.