Rubbish. I have books from the 90s on C++ that fail to mention smart pointers anywhere, written by C++ committee members.
Could good C++ programmers have created their own smart pointers in the 80s? I guess so. My strong impression though is that C++ programmers would have been *way* ahead of the state of understood wisdom in the C++ world at that time. My impression
To claim smart pointers are trivial, widely understood techniques since the 80s stretches credibility somewhat. If they're so trivial, so widely understood for so long, why did it take 20+ years to standardise some? Why is an only relatively recently standardised form of smart pointer already being deprecated in the next C++ standard? (auto_ptr for unique_ptr). My sense is that smart pointers are so trivial that even C++ standards committee members hadn't really fully grokked the implications of copying, moving and sharing them until relatively recently - but I guess they're just "old C programmers who don't know better".
Unfortunately, in the real world, many programmers just aren't quite as brilliant as you.