I am afraid this reply will have to be quick and largely off the top of my head. My thoughts are interspersed with your text and marked with double asterisk. I get what you are saying, but I don't think we're on quite the same page.
Am I saying that I can conceive of a time when smoking is no longer damaging? Not really; I was just illustrating that an unknown number of smokers would be gladdened to hear news that promised just such a possibility. For them, they would finally have a strong defense against the criticism and ostracism they endure, and give them some freedom to truly enjoy their smoke-breaks.
** See, I believe that a significant part of the pleasure most smokers derive from it is in taking the Risk indicated by that damage. Take away the risk and you take away the thrill.
If there ever were therapies made available to undo the physical ravages of smoking, there will be a mass of [new] smokers who will welcome the news [but not necessarily ever sign-up for such a program] For them, just knowing it could be available is sufficient to neutralize their nagging fears that nicoharm might do them in eventually.
** Couldn't you say that to a great extent we are already there psychologically for at least some smokers? All of us know that smoking is but one of many factors contributing to heart disease and lung cancer, and we know that quitting will greatly reduce our chances of getting them - says so, right on the pack. So, we are able to smoke safe in the knowledge that if we ever decide that the pleasure of taking the Risk is no longer worth the risk itself, we can quit. With the aid of all sorts of existing therapies and other lifestyle changes we can even further reduce the risk. As for emphysema and other forms of COPD, we know that while smoking is the primary cause, we also know that even the most ravaged lungs will respond to myriad therapies and treatments even if the afflicted person doesn't stop smoking. If she does, well, the possibilities are even greater. At the far extremes, we have supplemental oxygen, heavy duty medications, and LVRS. Of course no one really believes that she can smoke for a lifetime and count on dodging the bullet, but I have to think that somewhere in the recesses of every smoker's mind is comfort in knowing they aren't absolutely doomed.
I offer in evidence the following: young smokers, when confronted with the threats of smoking related damage, almost to a woman, declare, "Ohh, but that's years away!! I'll quit by then & it won't matter."
** Maybe. I don't know. Most of the young smokers I have met have a different attitude and openly accept the Risk and don't pretend otherwise. The few I have met who have had the attitude you describe have done exactly that. They have smoked for a few years and then quit.
I feel, though, that there are some other negative aspects of this adult-habit that paradoxically enhance the allure of smoking as well:
Bad Girl/Bad Boy rebels whose lifestyle are symbolized by the dangling cigarette, and who enjoy hedonistically w/o worrying about the blow-back or public opinion;
The rugged individualist who is aware of her/his imprint on society, but who dares you to challenge their personal choices [like smoking] because she/he has already achieved a personal stability and disconnect from society [I see entertainers, & highly creative souls here; artists, authors, sculptors, playwrights, composers, musicians to name only a few]. In a crowd of such as these, smoking is the norm & not the reverse [Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table].
** Sure! I don't think anyone denies that people smoke for varied and complex reasons. Part of the pleasure I take from smoking is the contrast between it and my being a highly trained and skilled health care professional, and I take a certain pleasure in lighting up in public while in professional attire. (It's even better if you can make a show of untangling your pack of cigarettes from your stethoscope when you take them out of your pocket.)
True smoking will never be risk-free; I know that: but technology will certainly try to ameliorate the negative aspcts because there's money in there, somewhere. Big Money.
** Of course. And because it is our nature to constantly seek such answers.
And risk-free smoking, if it ever surfaces, will be a very insipid varient of the smoking we all have enjoyed here through out our lifetimes.
** True. We'll have to buy our cigarettes and loose tobacco from shady dealers in dark corners. "Psst! Hey buddy! You want to buy some real high tar stuff? Roll one out of this and your lungs'll bleed, man, bleed!"