NEW YORK, SEPT. 14 -- R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. announced today that it plans to begin selling a cigarette that heats but doesn't burn tobacco, creating the taste of smoke by drawing hot air through a mixture of tobacco, artificial flavorings and glycerin.

The new cigarette "looks, lights and smokes like other cigarettes, but produces no ash and virtually no sidestream {smoke from the lit end} after the first few puffs. The smoke exhaled by the smoker dissipates rapidly," said E.A. Horrigan Jr., chairman of the RJR Nabisco Inc. subsidiary.

RJR said the new product will go on sale next year in some parts of the country, but did not specify where or say what it will be called or how much it will sell for.

Unlike other cigarettes, the product does not burn down as it is consumed. A smoker lights the tip, which Reynolds said contains "a highly refined carbon heat source" that generates warm air. Puffing on the cigarette draws the warm air through the tobacco, tobacco extracts, flavorings and other substances to form smoke.

The cigarette contains about 70 percent of the tobacco in a normal cigarette of its length, remains lit about as long as a king-sized regular cigarette, and extinguishes itself without having to be crushed out.

Horrigan, a vice chairman of RJR Nabisco, told a press conference that when the cigarette is lit and lying flat, it is "unlikely to ignite most materials -- a positive step in addressing the fire-safety issue regarding the careless use of cigarettes."

Horrigan called the new product "the world's cleanest cigarette" and said he believed "it will be well received by those people who object to tobacco smoke."

Horrigan did not describe the new cigarette as safe or safer than other cigarettes, reiterating the industry contention that smoking hasn't been proved to be hazardous to health. Instead, he spoke of the "controversy" about smoking and health and said the new product addresses the "perceptions" of many smokers.

Reynolds said in a fact sheet that it has had "encouraging" results from ongoing analytical and toxicological tests, which are being done at unidentified independent laboratories, and which "will be available for review by the scientific community prior to market introduction."

Horrigan emphasized that technological development, which began in the early 1980s, is continuing, and said that it is "too soon to say whether or when" the cigarette will be sold nationally.

He said a production facility for the new product has been readied in the tobacco firm's home city of Winston-Salem, N.C. RJR produces about one-third of the nation's cigarettes. Its biggest brands now are Winston, Salem, Camel and Vantage.

Representatives of the federal government's Office of Smoking and Health and the American Cancer Society said they were skeptical that Reynolds has achieved a safety breakthrough, based on the information made available today.

The company said that the new cigarette "contains carbon monoxide and nicotine like other cigarettes," and will carry the same health warnings. Reynolds also said that the cigarette eliminates or greatly reduces "a majority of the compounds produced by burning tobacco ... including most compounds that are often associated with the smoking and health controversy."

Dr. Ronald M. Davis, director of the federal health agency, said "it's hard to know what to make of a vague statement about a 'majority' of the compounds" in cigarette smoke, pointing out that about 4,000 have been identified, and that eliminating a majority could still leave hundreds remaining.

He also emphasized findings that nicotine is strongly addictive and carbon monoxide cause heart disease. "The scientific and medical communities have concluded nearly unanimously that smoking -- both active and passive -- are hazardous to health," he said.

For the American Cancer Society, Dr. Steven Stellman, assistant vice president for epidemiology, said, "This new device contains only enough tobacco to exempt it from health regulation under food and drug laws. It is flavored by additives, not tobacco. We don't know whether these additives are safe for human consumption... .

"Reynolds has obviously developed this product not to reduce the risk of disease, but rather to allow present smokers to maintain their nicotine dependency in the growing number of areas where smoking is restricted or prohibited, so that they will continue to smoke conventional cigarettes at home and in other unrestricted areas," he said.

Horrigan said he called the press conference to make "a progress report" to counter "rumors and even misinformation during this product's development and particularly in light of recent media speculation."

Wall Street speculation about the announcement on Friday caused RJR Nabisco stock to jump almost $3 a share, but yesterday after the press conference the stock dropped $1, closing at $66.75.

The announcement of the new product came a few days after the Centers for Disease Control reported that the rate of cigarette smoking in the United States continued to decline, reaching a new low of 26.5 percent of adults in 1986.

Horrigan said Reynolds believes that further major advances of the kind made in the past, such as the filters introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, "are limited." He said the research on the new cigarette was done in great secrecy. -- 30