BOSTON, DEC. 1 -- A Washington lawyer for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. acknowledged to federal health officials that cigarettes are related to lung cancer, heart disease and chronic lung diseases, according to an internal government memo made public today by an antismoking group.

At a meeting in September in connection with Reynolds' announcement of a new low-tar cigarette, Peter Barton Hutt, a partner of Covington & Burling, "asked not to be quoted that smoking was hazardous," according to memorandum summarizing the meeting written by Dr. Ronald M. Davis, director of the Office on Smoking and Health.

The Davis memorandum was immediately challenged by Reynolds.

The company released a letter written by Hutt to Davis alleging that the memo misrepresented what happened at the meeting, which had been requested by the company to brief officials of the Department of Health and Human Services, including Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, on its new "smokeless" cigarette that heats but doesn't burn tobacco.

If in fact Hutt made the statements attributed to him in the memo, they could severely weaken the ability of the tobacco industry to defend itself against product-liability lawsuits, according to the Tobacco Products Liability Group, a Boston group that obtained the memorandum under under the Freedom of Information Act.

About 125 smokers' lawsuits are pending, including one each in Mississippi and New Jersey that are to go to trial in January.

Richard Daynard, a law professor who chairs the group, said at a news conference today that the industry has "shot itself in the foot" because Hutt's alleged statement goes against the industry's resolute, longstanding position that smoking hasn't been scientifically shown to be hazardous. His group seeks to encourage smokers' suits against tobacco companies.

Hutt, who was unavailable for comment today, sharply disputed Davis' memo in a letter to him dated Nov. 28. "At the end of the presentation, you asked whether Reynolds agreed that cigarettes caused" cancer, chronic lung illness and heart disease, Hutt wrote in that letter. "I responded that they did not. I reiterated that these were allegations by critics, stated that the company does not agree with these allegations, and reiterated that our intent at the briefing was to address the new cigarette, not smoking and health issues." Hutt, a former general counsel of the Food and Drug Administration, also denied asking Davis not to quote his remarks.

Reynolds called the release of the memorandum "yet another attempt by Professor Daynard to divert attention from the fact that tobacco products liability cases have been soundly rejected by juries and courts nationwide."

Davis said yesterday that he stands by his memo, which was written on the basis of his notes and "recollections" of the meeting. "I am absolutely sure that what I said was correct and what Mr. Hutt says now is incorrect," he told the Associated Press.

Another Public Health Service official at the meeting, James Brown, said the meeting "was so long ago that I quite frankly don't recall who said what ... I'm not sure whether what's in the memo was correct or not."

A few hours before that meeting, E.A. Horrigan, chairman of the RJR Nabisco Inc. subsidiary, announced plans to sell a new "smokeless" cigarette.

In a Manhattan press conference, Horrigan did not describe the new product as being safe or safer than other cigarettes, and he reiterated the industry's contention that the scientific evidence was insufficient to incriminate tobacco as a cause of disease.

Instead, Horrigan spoke of the "controversy" about smoking and health and said the new product addresses the "perceptions" of many smokers.

But in Washington, Davis wrote in the memo, "Hutt, who conducted most of the briefing, began by pointing out that the three major health problems related to smoking were cancer, chronic lung disease, and heart disease. He stated that the new R.J. Reynolds product, by producing a negligible amount of tar, should provide important health benefits by reducing the risk of cancer in smokers... .

"At the time, I did not know who Mr. Hutt was, and was rather surprised that he referred to cancer, chronic lung disease, and heart disease as problems. I asked if he was briefing us as a representative of RJR, and he said he was.

"I also asked if his explanation of the health benefits was part of the {Horrigan} press conference briefing earlier that day. He said that it was not, and in effect asked not to be quoted as saying that smoking was hazardous. I told him I wouldn't quote him in public."

In his memo, Davis wrote that he was "not exactly sure" why RJR provided the briefing.

"I suspect they would like us to perceive possible health benefits in the new cigarette so that the Public Health Service would have a favorable (or at least neutral) reaction to this development," he wrote

In similar speculation at the news conference, Daynard said it would have been preposterous for Reynolds, at a meeting with officials such as Koop, to try to disassociate smoking from disease the way the industry does in public because the surgeon general "would have walked out."

RJR Nabisco stock closed yesterday at $46.75, up 50 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange. Washington Post staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.