So help me Hannah, I will never again waste my time or the column's space on this kind of nonsense. Never, never, never!

Each time I write that it is futile to save empty cigarette packages, I receive letters that run like this: "Gee, I suppose you checked your facts before you wrote that item, but there's this doctor out at NIH who has been asking all his friends to save empty cigarette packages because this little boy who needs treatment on a lung machine gets free time on a machine in exchange for cigarette packages. Could you please check this out?"

When I was younger and had more endurance, I was addicted to following through on stories of this kind. I spent an appalling number of hours checking into them and never found one that could be authenticated.Each person questioned by an investigator says, "No, I'm not the one who actually deals with the company that redeems the packages. Talk to the fellow I turn them over to. He's the one who knows."

Now that my get-up-and-go has gotten up and gone, I have learned to say "No" to wild-goose chases. But a recent letter from Earl A. Williams was irresistible. He told me the police department in Bethany Beach, Del., is collecting empty cigarette packages. And if the cops are doing it, maybe there's something to it, right?

So there I was on the telephone again, asking the same stupid questions, and getting the same answers.

A police official in Behany Beach told me his men had been asked to save empty cigarette packages because for each 200 of them a little girl (not boy) was being given an hour of treatment on a kidney (not lung) machine. He didn't know who was redeeming the packages but gave me the name and phone number of the woman to whom the police were forwarding their collections. She'd know.

I called the woman. She said no, she didn't know who was redeeming the empty packages, but a student at Frostburg (Md.) State College would know. The woman said she employed the student last summer and learned about the cigarette package collection campaign from her.

A long-distance information operator gave me the college's number in five seconds, and the college's switch-board gave me the young woman's number in five seconds. Then I spent an hour and a half listening to busy signals before I got through.

"The empty cigarette packages?" the college student said. "Oh, we got rid of them."

"Got rid of them? Where?"

"I don't know. We had a whole, you know, there was this man who, actually it was my roommate who heard about it. She'd know. Why don't you just talk to her?"

"Fine. Put her on."

"You want to know about the cigarette packages? Yes, well that was a long time ago, I mean, we're not collecting them anymore, they were, well, you know, my mother said they were collecting them where she worked and, well, I just don't know."

So help me Hannah, I am never going to waste my time or the column's space on another of these silly exercises.

If you want a fairy story checked, you might enjoy doing it yourself. When somebody tells you a tearful tale about a sick child, ask for the name and address of the sick child and of the benefactor who will redeem the empty packages.

It is highly unlikely that you will be told who is supposedly being helped; and if you are given a name it will not check out. It is highly unlikely that you will be told who is supposed to be redeeming the empty packages; and if you are given a name it will not check out, either.

So my advice to you is this: If you cannot find a person willing to state "My own child benefits from this," or "I pay for this," or "My company pays for it," just smile gently and walk away in silence.