Faith Adkins is pouring the coffee in her Bethesda kitchen. Suddenly, she smiles--a sweet, wistful grin that says she has just remembered something pleasant, but not entirely pleasant. She gestures at the chair.

"In the evening, he'd come home and sit right where you're sitting and tell me about his day," she says.

"He'd smoke. And I'd smoke. Sure we would. We'd never do it without smoking.

"I often think how I must have been a bad influence on him. Maybe if I hadn't smoked so much, he wouldn't have."

She sets out cookies and napkins. "You know, he did quit in the last three or four months, which amazed me. He never really came around to deciding to quit before.

"Of course," added Faith Adkins, this time with a rueful smile, "by the time he did it, it was too late."

It will be two years this August since Dr. Paul Adkins died of lung cancer at the age of 55. He died where he worked--at George Washington University Hospital, where he was professor and chairman of surgery.

In a distinguished career as a teacher and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Adkins removed about 2,000 cancer- ous lungs in surgery. But that did not keep him from smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes a day from the time he was 15 until the day he looked at his own X-rays and diagnosed his own ailment--and fate.

Paul and Faith Adkins had four sons, and none of them has ever smoked. But Faith Adkins has, for about 30 years. And despite the agonizing way her husband died, she hasn't quit. Nor is she prepared to say for sure that she will, or can.

"I can't explain," she says. "I wish I could quit. I think I could. Maybe the best way for me would be to go on a trip, not take any cigarettes and be in a different habitat."

But right beside the coffee cup sits a pack of Kent III. It's 2:30 in the afternoon, and "oh, I guess I've smoked about six so far today. I started the day with the three Cs: crossword, coffee and cigarette. Then I smoked after breakfast, when I was on the phone, whenever I wasn't doing anything."

She blushes. "I know the motivation has to come from me. Maybe if we keep talking, I'll get it!"

But then she turns serious. "I've never been alone since Paul died. My life has not really settled. My life style has not changed that much on a day-to-day basis. And smoking is a pretty strong part of that life style, I guess."

Faith Adkins started smoking after college. "Some girls smoked; you just got into the habit," she said. It wasn't a matter of trying to be sophisticated, or mature or sinful. "I just did it. I never thought about it," she said.

She is not a smoker with rigid patterns. "I don't run out in the middle of the night if I don't have cigarettes," she says. "I've purposely gone without cigarettes. If I'm with a group of nonsmokers, I won't smoke, sometimes for hours."

Her sons have been after her to quit for years. "The two oldest ones, when they were 14 and 12, they'd be at the dinner table and they'd say, 'Why don't you give it up?' " Faith Adkins recalls.

She stirs her coffee. "I always made some excuse. I'd say, 'Tomorrow,' or 'Next month,' or 'I'll try.' Anything to escape the questions."

She sips. "I guess what really happened is that I became annoyed, and they knew it."

Why didn't her husband quit? "As intelligent as my husband was, I can't understand it. I know how he justified it to himself. He was constantly under tension, to write, to produce, to train young surgeons. It was a release for him, I guess."

A breakthrough of sorts happened not long ago in the career of Faith Adkins, smoker. She attended a banquet sponsored by the D.C. Lung Association, and got inspired. She called to request a packet of material the association will send to anyone who wants to quit smoking.

"I started on the program," she said. "I just didn't follow through. But I still have it all upstairs."

She sighs. "I think I could. I wish I could. I know I should. Because of the kind of man Paul was, I could be their prize pupil."

Faith Adkins stirs her coffee, thinking about quitting, yet again.

Tomorrow: Andrea Appleton, who finally did it.