I think that the value of tobacco and the act of smoking in the early 20th century in china was rather important. Being chinese myself, I didn't think that chinese people had smoked so widely until now but considering that it was popular back then I think it was considered as relaxing and as something that was used as a social means. Social means meaning that people got together because of the act of smoking was so common and enjoyed one another's company.
But I'm not entirely sure. At first, from watching alot of old day chinese dramas, you rarely see the females smoke because it seemed like more of a male thing, but after doing a little research, around the 20th century after cigarettes replaced pipes, women stopped smoking more often.