WINSTON, NC—Americans have known for years that smoking is a direct cause of coolness. But a recent study funded by R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and several other cigarette conglomerates proves conclusively that the cool effects of smoking are not limited to the smoker.

In these photos provided by the Tobacco Institute, an average-looking nobody (inset) becomes a really cool guy, simply by sitting near a smoker.

According to the study, secondhand smoke is a leading cause of coolness, and is only slightly less cool than actual smoking.

As a result of the study, cigarette companies are encouraging non-smokers to frequent smoky bars and make friends with smokers. The companies are also speaking out against laws that mandate separate non-smoking areas in public places.

"We are only acting in the interests of the public at large," R.J. Reynolds spokesperson Ron Gronfeld said. "We're not saying non-smokers are going to die as a result of their actions, but we do want to make sure they know they're not as cool as they could be."

Gronfeld referred to a "three-level progression" of coolness that non-smokers experienced in the study. Level one could be observed as soon as the non-smoker sat down at a barstool near a person enjoying a delicious cigarette.

"Even the nerdiest subject we could find somehow appeared cool when interacting with his smoking partner," Gronfeld said. "Just the fact that the subject was brave enough to breathe deadly secondhand smoke established him as a hip, freethinking individual, the kind of person who might one day run with the bulls in Pamplona."

Level two begins after a non-smoker has been in a smoke-filled environment for at least an hour. At this point, the non-smoker's clothes begin to stink of smoke, and he develops a dry, hacking cough. Bronchial fits are directly proportional to mucus overproduction, respiratory cyanosis and coolness. The smelly clothing leads to coolness because the nonsmoker smells to others as if he smokes two or more packs a day, which is a very cool thing to do.

Level three occurs once the non-smoker admits to himself that smoking is cool, and then starts smoking himself. "Even if a former non-smoker only smokes in bars or social situations, we feel as if we have scored a victory," Gronfeld said.

Smokers across the country feel vindicated by the study, claiming it proves what they have believed all along. "It's an exciting time to be a smoker," University of Virginia freshman Gina Pongres said. "It made me look grown- up in high school, and now that I'm older, it just makes me look cool." Her boyfriend, sophomore Tom Willard, agrees. "She always looks sexy smoking at the bars," he said. "I myself don't smoke, but I sure feel cool when I'm with Gina."

David Prochnow, president of United Smokers of America, says there has never been such a good time to seek out the friendship of smokers.

"Cigarette companies need our help," he said. "They want to get Third World countries addicted to American cigarettes, but that's going to take money. Now that this study has been released, I'm confident that even nonsmokers will make donations to cigarette companies, thanking them for the gift of coolness."

Prochnow went on to praise the tobacco companies for adding freon, nicotine and dozens of other poisonous substances to tobacco.

"Anyone would be seen as cool if their bodies were strong enough to handle even one of those chemicals. But smokers, being the coolest people around, have no problem breathing all of them at once," he said. "And breathing those chemicals secondhand is almost as cool."

R.J. Reynolds plans to use the study's findings as evidence this fall, when it petitions the government to encourage smoking among newborns.