The Stagebill Group -- which publishes 15 million programs a year for many of the nation's finest performing arts facilities, including the Kennedy Center -- is waging guerrilla warfare against a proposed ban on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products.

Joseph P. Barbieri, president of the Stagebill Group, told Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) in a recent letter that "the separation between man and the apes will be wider without the current magnitude of the tobacco industry contribution to the arts."

He added that the loss of tobacco ads would ruin his business, "which nourishes support for these not-for-profit facilities, in a time of ever-shrinking government subsidy to the arts."

Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, held hearings in July on proposals to prohibit tobacco companies from advertising and promotion, including brand-name sponsorship of exhibits or other cultural events. The industry spends at least $2 billion annually on such efforts.

The bills, introduced by Reps. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) and Bob Whittaker (R-Kan.), have broad support from health groups. But the measures have drawn opposition from some leaders of arts organizations helped by tobacco-industry philanthropy, including William H. Luers, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In his letter to Waxman, Barbieri said, "The immeasurable good generated by the tobacco advertising revenue that accrues to, and, indeed, supports many publications far exceeds the detrimental ripple effect that would be resultant from a ban of tobacco advertising."

In a separate letter to Waxman, Luers said that changes in the tax law had already crimped corporate incentives to support the arts. "The public interest strongly suggests that no further action should be taken by the Congress to diminish a vital source of funding," he wrote.

He continued, "... private sector support of the arts involves two basic freedoms of choice: the potential grantee may or may not wish to participate; the grantor may or may not wish to accept what has been proffered.

"These two freedoms serve to rationalize both the business and cultural interests in terms of the ultimate societal interest. They need not, in our opinion, be further curbed in unnecessarily restrictive legislation."

Luers emphasized to Waxman "that we are not addressing your subcommittee in the interest of the tobacco industry, its patrons, or the controversial custom of tobacco smoking."