John Lyttle on film

A cigarette is one of the very few things I haven't had in my mouth, but if I ever succumb to the lure of the coffin stick, it'll be because of moving pictures.

Take Waiting to Exhale. Or, more accurately, Waiting to Inhale. Everyone - Angela, Whitney (right), Loretta and Lela - puffs their brains out, recycling every snout trick ever committed to celluloid (tapping the ciggie for dramatic emphasis, lighting up slowly for sex appeal, letting the lighter shake nervously on the way to its destination, blowing smoke briskly to denote getting down to business), and you don't sit there po- faced and pondering oxygen starvation, accelerated wrinkling and tumour- invaded lungs, no siree. What you're thinking is, wow, how glamorous, and how transgressive. Which brings us right back to the dawn of the movies, when flappers, jazz babies and hot cha' girls scandalised and tantalised by doing "it" in public - the way Angela does "it" in public, repeatedly, deftly, at a hotel bar, nursing an equally naughty Scotch and water (as Wesley Snipes only half-jokes "Ooh, I'm frightened of you"). What goes around, comes around...

Not that tobacco can do for Basset what it did for Bacall (moving through her own mist in To Have and Have Not), Dietrich (sniff Morocco) or Davis (pick a title, any title). Novelty, like innocence, lasts about as long as 10 Woodbines, and then it's gone, defeated by imitation and knowledge - in this case, the knowledge of cancer. Mind you, it's the knowledge of cancer that perversely makes Exhale's nicotine jags so sick'n' sexy. Which is hard to explain without quoting Jim Carrey's one word come-on/catchphrase/justification: "Smoking!"

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