Now metaphorical, but, once upon a time, For Real. For a great deal of the 20th Century, political party bigwigs in the US would privately decide on a candidate; their cigars (Marlin Perkins: "the usual nicotine device of the Suited Bigwig is the expensive Cuban cigar..."; then as now) provided the smoke. The process has opened up - at least on paper - in the past few decades, with these things decided by the voters in primary elections. But the metaphorical smoke remains.