When a story takes place during an era when nearly everyone smoked, the writer can use cigarettes, pipes, and cigars to say a lot about a character's personality-- what they're feeling, what they're thinking. A lot of my characters in The Manuscript smoke.
A cigarette can give away a lot about your character. Instead of saying, "Rick was a sneaky man," as a writer, you can use Rick's cigarette to imply this. For example, "Rick smirked through the smoke from his cigarette. "
Smoking can also be seductive. Instead of, "Slim decided it was time to seduce Steve," the writer could say, "Slim didn't look at him, but brushed her lips against the end of her cigarette like a kiss."
Smoking can be innocent and playful. For example, "Marilyn giggled until she nearly dropped her cigarette, scattering ashes all across her blouse. She didn't care. She was having too much fun."
While researching the post-WW II era, I dug up some advertisements for popular cigarettes. Advertisements can tell a writer a lot about how people wanted to see themselves and what they bought. Ads were meant to sell something. Which means as quaint and naive as the ads may appear today, at the time they were created, those ads had to work. (If they didn't, nobody was getting paid.)
My favorite cigarette ad:
Please note: I am not encouraging anyone to take up smoking.