Smoked out: Seattle hookah bars shuttered

SEATTLE -- Six hookah bars may have to shut their doors after health department officials determined they were breaking state law that requires all public places to be smoke-free.

Hookah bars around Seattle were given a notice Tuesday, requiring them to stop allowing smoking or face a $100 fine for violating the order. Casablanca Shisha Lounge, Da Spot Hookah Lounge, Medina Hookah Lounge, the Night Owl, Sahara Hookah Lounge and Seattle Hookah Lounge have 10 days to either appeal the decision or ban smoking on their property.

Seattle and King County Public Health officials have visited each hookah bar several times, officials said, and determined that they were operating illegally by allowing employees to work around secondhand smoke. Hookah bars have previously claimed they were private clubs, officials said, but an investigation found the clubs are open to the public and operate similarly to night clubs that charge cover for admission.

The lounges have received multiple warnings, officials said.

"We are forced to take this enforcement action because they haven't been responsive to our previous warnings," Director and Health Officer for Public Health, David Fleming, said.

Hookah is tobacco smoked through a water pipe. King County health officials said the smoke is at least as harmful as cigarette smoke, even though it is mixed with sweet flavorings. Officials said during a 45-minute hookah session, a person may inhale the equivalent of 100 cigarettes.

According to King County health officials, tobacco use kills an average of 2,000 people per year in King County.