Over a period of more than two decades, I edited newspapers in two cities whose economies were dependent upon tobacco. As such, I frequently defended tobacco farmers and the tobacco industry against regulatory restrictions, taxation and social stigma. My arguments were not that there's nothing wrong with or unhealthy about smoking; rather, I argued that smoking is a rational choice (even if it's an unhealthy choice — one of many unhealthy choices people make) and that over-taxation threatens to destroy the tax base. If higher taxes discourage people from smoking, tobacco tax revenues will drop, leaving federal, state and local governments with budgetary holes.
In the early years of my newspaper career, smoking was prevalent. All of us put up with the smoke and the ashes and the butts and the fire hazard. We made do by seeking places to eat or to read or do other things away from the smokers and the odor that followed them. When restaurants began offering non-smoking tables, we rejoiced, though some non-smoking sections still exuded the foul odor of ashes. Smoking sections were not sealed off from the non-smoking. When restaurants began banning smoking and when state laws made it illegal to smoke in restaurants and office spaces, we rejoiced.
The smoke and ashes that had not bothered us so much years before suddenly became a major annoyance. When the smoke cleared (literally and figuratively), we recognized the odors left by cigarette smoke. Now, years after smoking was banned in nearly all indoor public places, I can quickly identify smokers who come into my office or pass me in a hallway. The smoking odor stays with them. It's in their clothes, their hair and their skin, making them immediately identifiable to non-smokers.
In the past three or four decades, smoking has gone from an accepted practice in homes, offices, workplaces, schools and even hospitals and doctor's offices to an anomaly practiced by less than 20 percent of adults in this country. Those smoking adults, unless they are especially discreet, may be shunned by the non-smoking majority. It's not just the smoke and the ashes and the butts and the health risks. It's the offending odor and the obvious bad choice smoking proclaims.
When we were married 45 years ago, one of our wedding gifts was an ash tray, though neither of us smoked. But as congenial hosts, we would be expected to provide an ash tray in our home for our guests. No more. If you see an ash tray in a store these days, it's a strange anachronism.