For the second time in 15 months, a local hookah lounge under pressure from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has agreed to prohibit tobacco smoking in its establishment.
The Night Owl, 5211 S. Tacoma Way, reached a settlement with the Health Department earlier this week.
The Health Department sued the lounge in 2012, alleging it was violating the state's Smoking in Public Places law by allowing patrons to use hookah pipes to smoke tobacco.
The lounge's owners countered that their hookah room was not a public place, but a private club where members paid for the privilege of getting together to smoke tobacco.
The Night Owl decided to settle out of court after reviewing recent case law out of Thurston and Snohomish counties that bolstered the Health Department's position, said attorney Russell Knight, who represented the Night Owl.
Health Department officials hailed the settlement as a win for public health.
Young people are increasingly attracted to using hookah pipes because they think it might be less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, the Health Department said in a news release. A 2012 survey found that 15.3 percent of Pierce County high school seniors reported smoking a hookah during a 30-day span, up from 13.4 percent in 2008.
A hookah is a type of water pipe traditionally used to smoke flavored tobaccos, usually a social gatherings.
Smoking hookahs is just as dangerous, possibly more so, than smoking cigarettes, the department reported.
"Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death," said Frank DiBiase, assistant director of the department's Environmental Health division. "Preventing young people from becoming addicted to tobacco curbs disease and saves lives."
Knight said the agreement allows the Night Owl to stay open and avoid paying fines. The lounge will offer "a number of different products that don't contain tobacco" for use in its pipes, including steam stones and a molasses-based product, he said.
In September 2012, the Venus and Mars hookah lounge reached a similar settlement with the Health Department.
A Health Department lawsuit against The Cobra Lounge, another Tacoma hookah establishment, continues, with a hearing scheduled in Superior Court next week, records show.