I once opposed the smoking ban. But now I realise why it was largely unopposed and why the new law settled in rather well.
If the Government had tried to ban smoking in the 1970s there would have been uproar. Society was not informed to the extent it is today about the health consequences of smoking and passive smoking.
From the 1970s attitudes changed rapidly. Pubs, restaurants and hotels were already starting to respond. JD Wetherspoon is a big example of a company that independently decided to ban smoking in its premises. Many more places at least had no smoking areas. Long before the legislation was passed there was a significant attitude that viewed smoking in public spaces as dirty, unhealthy and inconsiderate.
It was only after this shift in attitudes that legislation was acceptable to society and thus practical. Libertarian opponents complained that it was an affront to individual liberty, however their stance was not reinforced by social attitudes whereas Parliament’s ban was.
There are many other cases such as compulsory seat-belts and anti-discrimination laws, where legislation mirrors changing attitudes and is therefore reinforced by society.
It is a slow process, in fact a very Conservative process, whereby the law reflects and is reinforced by social and cultural evolution. This is the only way that law can be made. An attempt to impose a law that is completely unsubstantiated by wider attitudes, such as Prohibition in the United States, will ultimately fail.
It will be interesting to see which social norms today become abnormal tomorrow and eventually outlawed.