Smokefree DC is a citizen-based group whose goal is to promote smokefree environments in Washington, DC.

City responds to Smokefree DC's complaint about illegal hookah bars

Soho Hookahs

flickr photo courtesy of Garry Knight

The D.C. government soon will notify hookah bars that are operating without an exemption to the smokefree workplace law that they are breaking the law.

Smokefree DC notified the city in April about more than half a dozen establishments that were permitting smoking indoors without having a certificate of exemption from the Department of Health.

The Department of Health explained to us that it was difficult to enforce the smokefree law because of the way the penalties were written — a violation calls for a criminal penalty, which means the police must get involved. The department has told us that it is taking a couple of steps to remedy this.

First, it has put into place emergency rules that make a violation of the law a civil matter. Second, it has designated DOH food inspectors to enforce the smokefree law. Third, it is forming an interagency task force consisting of representatives from other agencies. The idea is to enforce the smokefree workplace law from a variety of angles.

In an email sent today to Smokefree DC, a DOH representative said:

As we continue to work on a comprehensive enforcement strategy, the DOH Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services team will investigate complaints and issue fines.   In the coming weeks we will conduct an educational campaign for the restaurant community about Smoke free Workplaces and allow a voluntary cease and desist period.  We expect fine enforcement to begin in mid/late September.

We appreciate the city taking the steps necessary to ensure the integrity of the smokefree workplace law.

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