Northwest Asian Weekly
There has been community concern about the presence of hookah bars and lounges in the International District and throughout other Seattle neighborhoods recently, due to the shooting of community figurehead Donnie Chin in late July.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced August 3 that the “City will step up enforcement against smoking lounges.” There are currently 11 hookah lounges in the greater Seattle area, three which are in the ID.
With the community and city already bewildered and grieving over Chin’s death, there has been confusion and questions about the role hookah bars play in Chin’s homicide, and questions all around:
What is hookah?
Hookah is a flavored tobacco. It is smoked out of a ‘hookah’ water pipe. It is a centuries old practice and most likely began in India or the Middle East. The hookah pipe is usually shared. According to the American Cancer Society, hookah users may inhale more smoke than cigarette smokers, because hookah sessions often last an hour or more, during which hookah users will inhale not only the smoke from the hookah itself but also that of the others with whom they are smoking.
What is a hookah bar/hookah lounge?
The hookah bar offers its customers the product at their table. Hookah bars are popular due to the socializing aspect of sharing the hookah. Some lounges offer food, music, and dancing, and many of the lounges are open after 2 a.m., after traditional bars close. There are arguments that the popularity of hookah bars has escalated due to smoking bans.
Why are hookah bars suddenly a concern?
Donnie Chin, a prominent community leader in Seattle’s Asian American community, was shot in the vicinity of Kings Hookah Lounge, a popular hookah bar located on the 800 block of S. Lane Street in the International District. He was pronounced dead by the time he could be transported to Harborview Medical Center.
Chin’s death in proximity to the smoking lounge and within the neighborhood was not an isolated incident of concern. During the past two years, there were numerous cases reported around hookah bars, including two homicides and multiple reports of disturbances and fights. According to the City of Seattle statement, there has been an excess of 100 incidents reported, including six shots fired.
“Far too many smoking lounges attract and sustain illegal, violent activity that has no place in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Murray. “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.”
According to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, “Hookah lounges are a public safety risk not just for the damage the smoking causes to the patrons and employees, but also as a magnet for public safety threats.”
What does the Mayor’s new enforcement and proposed legislation mean?
The City can revoke the license of any business that is conducting unlawful operations, including violating the ban on smoking in places of employment. The new ordinance would go into effect on Aug. 16. Business owners that continue to operate without a license face penalties of up to $5,000 a day and/or 364 days in jail.
The City is filing criminal charges against the owners of King’s Hookah Lounge for failure to pay business taxes. If convicted, the penalties range up to a $5,000 fine and/or 364 days in jail.
The Mayor and City Attorney will also work with the City Council to draft a future City ordinance that will explicitly prohibit any business that sells tobacco for use on their business premises.
What is the hookah bar response?
According to Nabil Mohammed, owner of the Medina Hookah Lounge in a television interview, the new regulation would be unfair. “A great person like Donnie Chin unfortunately lost his life and we are the fallback for it; that’s not right, that’s city politics,” Mohammed said.
The Asian Weekly contacted Kings Hookah Lounge for comment, but the manager was not available for response. (end)
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