The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has taken the area’s third hookah lounge to court, alleging it is violating the state’s anti-smoking law.
The department filed paperwork Wednesday seeking an injunction against Tacoma Lounge LLC, which operates Cobra Lounge at 713 Commerce St. in Tacoma.
Lawyers for the health department wrote in their pleadings that despite repeated warnings, the owners of the lounge continue to allow smoking at the business. The owners also force employees to work in a smoke-filled atmosphere, both of which violate the state’s Smoking in Public Places law and local ordinances.
“It’s a risk not only for customers but also for employees who would work in the facility,” said Steve Marek, division director of environmental health. “What we’re trying to do is work with the business to find a way that meets both their business needs and our legal requirements. That’s the ultimate goal here.”
Business co-owner Erin Cobb said last week the health department has not negotiated in good faith. Repeated attempts to clarify the department’s positions and to get more information on its intent have been met with silence for months, Cobb said.
“They’ve ignored these requests,” he said. “They are engaged in a ruthless and baseless campaign to put us out of business.”
The Cobra Lounge’s website, which describes the establishment as a “hideout for rebels, bandits and adventurers,” says it has more than 4,000 members. To enter the lounge, visitors must be members and pay a $5 annual fee, according to the website.
Tacoma health officials have now taken all three hookah lounges in Pierce County to court in an attempt to stop smoking inside the establishments.
In October, the department sued the Night Owl, 5211 South Tacoma Way, for the same reasons. In September, it won a battle with the Venus and Mars, another hookah lounge in Tacoma. Those lounge owners agreed to no longer allow people to smoke tobacco through hookahs in their businesses, switching instead to flavored steam stones.
A hookah is a type of water pipe traditionally smoked in the Middle East and India. People typically use them to smoke flavored tobaccos during social gatherings.
The Cobra Lounge, which opened in November 2007, was first inspected Sept. 15, 2011. Its owners were warned they were forbidden from allowing smoking in the lounge, Health Department spokeswoman Edie Jeffers said Thursday. When inspectors returned in October, they found smoking was still permitted and issued a civil penalty.
The owners were billed $145 for a re-inspection fee and $100 per day until they correct the violation.
Cobb said the health department never served the business with proper documentation.
“They’ve acted unprofessionally,” he said.
A hearing has been set for April 26. The lounge owners have 20 days to respond to the health department.
There are Cobra Lounge locations in Seattle and Bellingham, and the owners bill the Bellingham lounge as “the last legal smoking establishment in Washington, which means we have a good lawyer.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.