A new drug-labeling program featuring graphic symbol warnings and bold red lettering on a yellow background was announced yesterday by Giant Food Inc.

The labels, which will appear on the most common nonprescription drugs sold in the company's supermarkets and pharmacies, are designed to tell shoppers as quickly as possible that some drugs should be avoided by those with certain health problems, by small children or by pregnant women.

One warning symbol, for example, shows the face of a person yawning--a sign that this drug may cause drowsiness. Another symbol depicts a cocktail glass with a red line through it, a sign that you should avoid alcoholic beverages while taking the drug.

Other symbols depict a crawling baby, a warning that this drug should not be given to children under three years of age unless directed by a doctor; a heart, a sign that if you have heart disease, you shouldn't use this drug without consulting your doctor, and a sketch of kidneys, a sign that if you have kidney disease, you shouldn't use this drug without consulting a doctor first.

"We believe our labeling program is the first of its kind," said Odonna Matthews, Giant's consumer adviser, at a news conference.

The new labels with symbols initially will appear on 12 Giant nonprescription drugs, but over the next several months the program will be expanded to include 31 nonprescription drugs, she said.

Some drugs now marked with the special new labels include Giant aspirin, buffered aspirin, cold capsules, nighttime cough and cold formula, adult suppositories and natural vegetable laxative.

"We chose these products because they are among the most frequently purchased Giant nonprescription drugs and can cause adverse reactions if not taken properly," Matthews said.

"For example, nighttime cough and cold formula should not be taken by people with high blood pressure because it contains an ingredient that may raise blood pressure," she said. "Now there is a symbol on the product directing a person with high blood pressure to the warning on the label."

Matthews said that surveys show almost 80 percent of the consumers of over-the-counter drugs don't read the entire label. One purpose of the Giant program of symbols, she said, is to highlight what consumers need to know so that they can absorb warnings and alerts at a glance and then be enticed into reading the rest of the label information.

To explain the labeling program, Giant is spending about $140,000 on advertisements and special brochures. One of them, entitled "Read the Label and Use Medicines Safely," explains the new program and illustrates the label symbols and is available in all Giant stores. A second brochure, "Labels in Large Print," will reprint many labels of Giant nonprescription drugs in extra large print for the convenience of senior citizens and those with vision problems. This brochure is available in Giant pharmacies.