Seattle’s hookah lounges got a little reprieve. The city had planned on closing down the smoking lounges on Monday, but now officials are backing off.
Earlier this month Seattle Mayor Ed Murray took hard a stance against local hookah lounges, citing public safety concerns associated with the businesses. But the city eased off after business owners and supporters pushed back.
Last week, city officials and hookah lounge owners met. Both sides say they’re pleased with the initial conversation.
“We wanted to create space and time to meet with these business owners to help them come under compliance with state law,” said Brian Surratt, who heads the Seattle Office of Economic Development, one of the city departments at the meeting.
The challenge was to come up with ways for the hookah lounges to comply with the state law that bans indoor smoking in public spaces and work places. Two options emerged, Surratt says.
“If they would convert to a steamed stone hookah, which constitutes vaporizing rather than smoking then that would be permissible under current state law.”
Vaporizing isn’t a solution for hookah owners, however. Russell Knight, an attorney representing the businesses, says, “It’s like telling a coffee shop you can stay in business, but you can only serve tea.”
Knight says the owners and operators of the lounges are of East African and Middle Eastern descent. He says in their culture, traditional hookah is often smoked with shisha.
The second option discussed was to operate hookah lounges as private membership clubs. Knight says his clients already do that, and they’re meeting with Seattle-King County Public Health about additional steps they can to take in order to comply.