This New York Times story about the Illinois smoking ban, which took effect on Tuesday, is striking for what it leaves out: In close to 600 words, there's no mention of protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. Instead the emphasis is on protecting smokers from themselves:
"The country has really become quite aware of the dangers of smoking over the past five years," said Kevin B. Tynan, an official with the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. "We've had a thorough discussion. And even smokers recognize the real dangers."
Given all the publicity the hazards of smoking have received in the last four decades (you may have noticed warning labels on cigarette packages, for instance), it's weird that Tynan thinks the great awakening has occurred so recently. Still, he's talking about "the dangers of smoking," not the dangers of secondhand smoke. He and his fellow activists expect that smokers, left with virtually nowhere indoors to light up in the dead of winter, will be driven to quit:
Health advocacy groups are providing quit-smoking help, including squeeze balls to relieve stress. The Respiratory Health Association offered 25-cent bounties for unwanted ashtrays; 350 had been collected by Tuesday.
Advocates of strict bans said they had been shown to help reduce smoking and had not, generally, resulted in slowdowns for businesses, as some had feared.
For anti-tobacco activists and public health officials, the main goal of smoking bans has always been to reduce cigarette consumption. This is where the real "public health" payoff is, since the risks associated with smoking are much bigger than the risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. Most Americans, however, are not eager to save smokers from themselves, although they don't like being around tobacco smoke. Smoking ban promoters therefore have emphasized the bystander protection rationale, which makes these laws look like a classic public health intervention (especially if you conflate "public places" such as bars and restaurants with public property). It seems they no longer feel a need to pretend.
Another sign of the times: The story notes that "smoking is still allowed in homes," which is not something you can take for granted anymore.