Hookah business threatened by Health Department

      WASHINGTON (WJLA) - A popular pastime could go up in smoke in some local nightspots as the D.C. Health Department is about to crack down on businesses that don't have a special exemption to operate hookah bars.

      Over 100 establishments in D.C. officer the flavored tobacco, but there may soon be a lot fewer. The Health Department's crackdown is poised to hit restaurants the hardest.

      "I don't understand," says Louis Crary, a D.C. resident. "If you're bothered by hookah smoke, why are you going to a restaurant that offers it?

      D.C. has had a no smoking law on the books since 2007. If businesses want to offer hookah, they're required to have an exemption. To get one, the majority of the business has to come from smoking. It's a tough hurdle for restaurants to meet.

      "You go there for good food, wine, beer and atmosphere. It's ridiculous to separate the two," says David Jackson of D.C.

      If establishments that offer hookah don't have an exemption by Oct. 1, they could face fines of up to $1,000.

      Nadi Fattah owns a stand-alone hookah café and says he should qualify. He's applied for an exemption and is waiting to hear whether he'll get one.

      "Seventy-five percent of my income is from tobacco," he says, "and I agree with them. They're trying to protect some people. They may have asthma and they don't know there is smoke inside."

      The crackdown began in April after the watchdog group Smokefree D.C. complained to the Health Department, but some residents say they believe the city's resources could be better spent.

      "There definitely should be regulation on it, but to what degree? How many liquor stores are there in the proximity of these four blocks here?" asks Joseph Ramsey, a D.C. resident.