IT'S hard to come across more divisive subjects than smoking. I talk to this, after our front-page story yesterday regarding Smokefree Network Wairarapa's pitch to make Masterton's central business district smoke-free, as well as several public and recreational areas.

Smoking has had a real journey in New Zealand. It is now culturally ingrained in most of us to despise it in a completely one-sided and discriminatory manner.

Subjects such as fluoridation, or 1080, still enjoy both sides of the scientific debate and freedom of opinion.

Sugar, and its effect on obesity, is now passing a threshold of tolerance and debate, and is starting to develop pariah status.

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But smoking is unequivocal. Science has proven it kills you, and kills the people around you.

But what I find curious is this: how are these thresholds reached? What really causes a cultural and societal change?

People are pretty indifferent to death messages. Tell drivers to slow down, because your chances of dying just skyrocket when things go wrong, and it's like, yeah, nah. Ease back on the alcohol? Cut down on the fizzy drinks and cake? No one seems to be getting the messages.

I think it takes either a terrible personal shock or crisis, or disgust, to bring about a change. Being indirectly threatened by the possibility of problems, or even a slim chance of death, doesn't seem to do it.

I mean, look at how many of us put off going to the dentist.

With smoking, we have reached that threshold of disgust, to the point now where lighting up seems a bit of an oddity. I'm sure anti-smoking campaigners will say the battle is not over, but to me society in New Zealand has crossed that line. I can sympathise a bit with some of the Facebook commenters on our story, saying give smokers a break, and perhaps this was going too far.

Educationally, perhaps enough has been done.

Those who are still smoking - and almost certainly trying to quit - would probably prefer to quietly succeed in smoking cessation, without yet another draconian edict.