The various actions taken to reduce smoking prevalence seem to have had some success but in the last few years there has been little change. There are a few theories as to why this might be, and why the initial drop occurred, but the fact is that the smoking level dropped and now despite ever increasing anti-smoking regulations and anti-smoker stigma seems stable.
This could mean a number of things such as either this is a natural level of nicotine use in this society, that is that this proportion of the population really does use nicotine to improve brain function or simply to feel more at ease in their environment. It could also mean that these are the ones who were less able to quit than the others.
But there is another possibility.
What if it is somewhat about stigma and risk. What if the most motivating factors behind the drop were 1. education: smoking is unhealthier than you thought it was and 2. experience: having an explanation for disease you see in those close to you and 3. risk averseness: you would rather quit than possibly end up like them.
Then what about the others?
The great move to denormalize smoking took the behavior from being just something some people did, and turned it into a political act. Everyone knew there was some health risk in smoking but that was not the dominant sense of it nor did smoking distinguish you from other members of society. After denormalization started working, smoking became more rebellious, and the risk involved in smoking played a much larger part.
Many anti-smoking actions are supposedly aimed at reducing teen smoking. If there is one group that embraces risk and rebellion, it is teenagers. People later in years, many who if they smoked naturally gave it up, did so out of changing priorities; they started accruing responsibilities, some of which benefited by being healthier. Parents tend to forgo risky activities because they risk more than just their own futures.
However, the larger context is an increasingly risk averse society. Given the choices, smoking is a pretty mild way to assert some individuality, some small rebellion as opposed to jumping out of a plane which while having some risk is not a signifier of being anti-social. And most of us want to swim apart at least some of the time. Ergo smoking.
Smoking stigma may in fact maintain smoking in this helmet wearing, keep your kids inside, watch everything you eat, overly cautious present.
Which makes electronic cigarettes so interesting; you get to be anti-social without the health risks.
(And ultimately, stigmatizing is more a form of politicized whining which says a lot more about the whiners than it does about the targets).