Any lounge or after-hours gathering place should operate legally or face the consequences.

Share story

A MEANINGFUL debate over the future of hookah bars in Seattle should not be overshadowed by some claims that the city’s crackdown unfairly targets the East African community.

The goal should be to protect public safety and ensure laws are being followed — and enforced equitably.

Frankly, the city has allowed some problem hookah businesses to operate for too long without consequences. Several have been cited by Public Health – Seattle & King County for violating the statewide ban on smoking in public spaces and places of employment.

These business ownersshould not be surprised by Mayor Ed Murray’s decision earlier this month to put 11 hookah lounges citywide on notice. He announced increased enforcements after International District Emergency Center Director Donnie Chin was gunned down while responding to gunfire in his neighborhood.

Though some neighborhood advocates might be unfairly pinning the murder of a beloved community member on nearby hookah businesses, there is clearly a pattern of violence reported near smoking lounges that sometimes stay open into the wee hours of the morning.

While some view the lounges as attractions for bad behavior and unhealthful smoking, others view them as social spaces free of alcohol.

Since 2012, city officials have reported more than 100 incidents surrounding hookah bars, ranging from shots fired (at four lounges) to assaults and three fatal shootings.

Something’s up.

Earlier this month, the city filed criminal charges against King’s Hookah Lounge in the Chinatown-International District for failure to pay business taxes. The mayor and City Council should continue to move toward licensing and regulating smoking lounges similar to what they’re doing for marijuana businesses.

Regardless of an owner’s ethnicity, every business should comply with the law and be responsive to public health and neighbors’ concerns.

While some critics are equating enforcement of indoor smoking laws with racism, in fact, city officials are going after the most flagrant violators of a state law that’s been in place since 2005.

When any after-hours business is near a spate of crimes — and people get hurt — the city and county have to do something.