Seattle aims to clamp down on indoor smoking lounges after violence

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 03, 2015 8:07 PM

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle wants to close about a dozen water pipe smoking lounges linked to three homicides and other violence over the past year and a half, the city's mayor said on Monday.

The city is expanding its authority to revoke business licenses and pursuing criminal charges against the owner of a hookah lounge located near where a man was killed last month, Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement.

He said police have responded to more than a hundred fights and disturbances connected to smoking lounges since 2012.

"Far too many smoking lounges attract and sustain illegal, violent activity that has no place in our neighborhoods," Murray said.

The city did not say how it knows the homicides and other violence are tied to the lounges, and a Seattle Police Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for information.

The city estimates there are about a dozen indoor smoking lounges. They typically offer customers water pipes for smoking tobacco.

"These establishments are unlawful businesses that continue to thumb their noses at the law," Murray said.

State law bans smoking in indoor public places and places of employment, but Seattle lacks the authority under current law to revoke the lounges' licenses or shut them down over smoking violations alone, said John Schochet, a spokesman for the city attorney.

Local health inspectors can issue $100 fines, he said.

Under revisions to the city code that take effect on Aug. 16, Seattle can revoke licenses after health officials issue a smoking violation and the owners lose an administrative hearing, or fail to contest the infraction, Schochet said.

A business owner operating without a license can face a criminal charge, with monetary penalties and possible jail time, he said.

The city said it was filing such a charge on Monday against the owner of the King's Hookah Lounge in the Chinatown-International District for failure to pay business taxes. A man was shot dead nearby last month.

Lounge owner Amar Alalimi said he has filed tax returns after a city warning but he does not owe the city money.

"(The city is) just making a big deal out of it because of the recent incident that happened near the hookah lounge after business hours," Alalimi said.

Murray also said his administration would work with the City Council to draft a law prohibiting any business from selling tobacco for onsite use.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Beech)