The Seattle Globalist asked the Seattle City Council candidates five questions important to immigrant and minority communities in Seattle. This question on additional regulations on Seattle’s hookah lounges is the fourth in our series of five.
Question: Do you feel that hookah lounges need additional regulation? If so, what should be done? Should they be allowed to stay open in spite of conflicts with anti-smoking laws? Why?
I believe the city needs to be certain that hookah lounges are following appropriate regulations, not necessarily creating additional regulatory expectations for these particular types of lounges. This requires culturally competent dialogue and an understanding of both the goals of our laws related to smoking and the cultural role that hookah lounges play for some community members.
I think there needs to be a middle ground. I don’t whatsoever support targeting businesses, whether individual businesses, or a group of them — ever — because of crime that happens outside of those businesses. Consequently, I didn’t support the proposed law enforcement action as it rolled out and felt we should use the model the city use to address compliance issues in other businesses, rather than simply announce the intent to shut them all down. I support the voter-approved ban against smoking in public places to protect workers from exposure to secondhand smoke in the course of making a living. I support private smoking membership clubs, but I do believe that private membership clubs can’t simply be a screen for public establishments. The City needs to collaborate and work with owners to come into compliance.
If hookah lounges or any smoking lounges do not comply with state and local law, they should be shut down. However, we need to look at regulation and enforcement through a Race and Social Justice lens. If a lounge produces public safety problems for neighborhoods, the lounge should be fully informed of the law and of their legal responsibilities and should be afforded the opportunity of compliance and also being a facilitator of strong public safety. If lounges refuse to comply with the law, the City should take steps to enforce the existing laws which can result in closure. The laws in this industry will no doubt change over the course of time given the decriminalization of marijuana and, using my legal training as an attorney, I will make sure all voices are heard during the discussions. Public safety and health are values we must protect.
Our city is greatly enriched by the many people who come here from around the world. I understand that smoking hookah is an important social gathering opportunity and pastime for many people and do not want to ban places they gather together to enjoy each others company over a hookah. However, SPD should make sure that existing regulations are enforced, for example, that the people going are not underage, that shisha – not drugs – are being smoked, and to ensure that any conflicts do not escalate into violence – like any bar. We should also look at the hours they stay open until and look at possibly making them closer earlier.
Regarding conflicts with smoking law, I would want to discuss that matter with patrons of the lounges and public health officials to see if there are options beyond just shutting them down.
I think hookah lounges have been scapegoated, and communities of color divided, by politicians who want to look as though they are doing something about gun violence. Gun violence has become a serious issue in Seattle, and solving it will require addressing economic inequality, racial inequities in schools, fully funding youth job and apprenticeship programs, and a real investment by the city government in our communities. Scapegoating like this will not solve the problem of gun violence and is completely counterproductive.
Pamela Banks did not submit an answer.
While we need to make sure that we have community spaces for our immigrant communities and communities of color to practice cultural traditions we should also make sure that these spaces follow the law and adhere to the current stipulations of our indoor smoking ban. I propose we work with hookah lounge owners to help make sure they operate as private clubs to ensure they can stay open for business and that they are not subject to random regulatory attempts.
I am supportive of the statewide indoor smoking ban. That said, there should be something that allows for things such as hookah lounges and cigar clubs to operate within a regulatory framework. The attempt to shut down hookah lounges was unfortunate, particularly with the lack of attention paid to the two identified cigar lounges in Seattle. The existence of an establishment or type of establishment is not a perpetuator of crime. If that were true, then we should be shutting down all the bars in Seattle – considering we see many more instances of violence outside these establishments.
While I support the ban on indoor smoking in Washington State, I believe hookah lounges should qualify for an exemption due to their cultural significance. As I made clear in a previous answer, I feel strongly that workers and consumers should be given generous protections, and in the case of hookah lounges, I do believe there are ways to do this without closing the lounges entirely. I would propose that these lounges be required to provide for excellent ventilation to minimize the amount of secondhand smoke that employees are subjected to, and that employees be granted time to remove themselves from the confines of the lounge at regular intervals. Employees should also be informed of air-quality requirements and be given phone numbers for anonymous tip lines if they feel that ventilation quality is substandard. We live in a multicultural community, and I am grateful for the influences that so many unique cultures bring to Seattle. We should work toward compromises so we can respect cultural differences while ultimately lead us to a richer, more diverse and vibrant city.
Hookah lounges are important community gathering places, and should be allowed to continue to do business in the city. However, I do think that they should be subject to reasonable additional regulations including notifying customers of the potential health risks of smoking tobacco.
I object to the city doing a blanket shut down of hookah lounges. They also need to abide by our existing state laws regarding smoking. I am willing to give them a reasonable amount of time (a few months) to alter their business model to come into compliance with state law. If they cannot find a business model that is sustainable and in compliance with state law, then they will need to transition to another business or close.
If hookah lounges are legally operating as clubs, I don’t see any need for further regulation. Hookah is an important cultural tradition for many in our community and it’s a tradition that should be allowed to continue.
Hookah lounges should be regulated as other bars and nightlife places are for public health purposes. They can remain open if they become membership clubs where smoking is allowed and employees are members voluntarily.
Deborah Zech Artis
They need better safety regulations. Increase the amount of cubic feet per minute air flow. Employees need to have 1st aid and CPR training. Guests should be able to quickly identify an employee.
All businesses in the city need to comply with our laws and regulations, including hookah lounges. The city is reviewing the smoking regulations and other minor violations through our Race and Social Justice screening tools to determine appropriate steps. The city should take enforcement action against any businesses that allow crime to continue on their premises through our Chronic Nuisance Property Law, but I do not favor sweeping actions against a group or class of businesses. Each individual business must be reviewed and judged on the specific facts and circumstances presented by that business.
Jon Grant did not submit answer.
All establishments should comply with city, county and state laws and regulations barring a religious exemption. My current understanding of the Clean Indoor Air Act, which is applicable to all smoking lounges, is that there is no religious exemption. With this in mind, I see two distinct areas of need here. First, when the city structures a potential enforcement strategy it is incumbent upon the city to apply a race and social justice equity lens before executing an enforcement plan. With regard to hookah lounges, it should be noted that there are several “cigar bars” throughout the city that are also likely in violation of the Clean Indoor Air Act. Where’s the enforcement there? Second, it is incumbent upon the city’s Office of Economic Development to provide culturally competent technical business assistance to communities that may be wholesale negatively impacted by strict enforcement of city regulations. Providing the Office of Economic Development with the resources it needs to do so will be a priority for me, if elected. Ultimately, the answer is to do robust engagement with hookah lounge owners, customers and other members of the East African community to ensure that, just like with any business, hookah lounges are being good neighbors and operating in compliance with our laws and regulations.
Bill Bradburd did not submit an answer.
Check out all our questions for the Seattle City Council candidates and don’t forget to vote! Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Previous coverage of hookah lounges on The Seattle Globalist
- Opinion: Replace hookah lounges with safe, healthy spaces for East African youth
- Seattle backs down on hookah crackdown (for now)
- Passionate defense of Seattle hookah lounges at city council meeting
- Crackdown on hookah lounges in wake of Donnie Chin shooting
- Opinion: Community policing is the safety solution the ID needs
- Donnie Chin remembered at Sunday night vigil
- International District community leader shot and killed Thursday
Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was first published to add Debora Juarez’ answer.