Did you just resolve --Once again--to stop smoking?

Maybe I can help.

You made the resolution, so you must know all the awful things about smoking -- cancer and emphysema, for everybody, birth defects in babies whose mothers smoke, early menopause and early wrinkling in women who smoke and all of those things made worse if you smoke and drink besides.

But you know all that, right? That's why every year you resolve to stop today, right?

And by tonight you're puffing away like the little engine that could?

In the first place, you're probably hung over. (If you're smart enough to stay sober on New Year's Eve you probably stopped smoking years ago.)

Your mistake wasn't in making the resolution, or even making it last night (or this morning.) Your mistake is in trying for instant execution. Your timing is off.

STEP ONE: All you have to do today is switch brands. Step down a tar and nicotine notch or two--go from, say, Winstons to, say, Merits. Or from Merits to Carltons or Nows.

STEP TWO: You can start this today too. Or even tomorrow. You've got a little time before ground (out) zero, as you will see: Keep a butt journal. Every time you light up, write down what you were doing (as in "answering telephone," "shifting to third gear," "having a second cup of coffee"). After a few days, start seeing where you really, absolutely don't have to have a cigarette. Cut out one or two or three cigarettes a day. You might start by instituting no smokes in the car.

STEP THREE: This is the big step. This is ground-out zero. But you don't take it until you get a chest cold. (Never fear, if you smoke you will be getting a chest cold sooner or later. Probably sooner.) At the first cough: Do not switch to mentholated cigarettes. Do not cut down. Just stop smoking.

You won't mind it while you're sick, and by the time you can breathe again, you'll still want a cigarette--I don't want to fool you -- but your resolve to stop may be strengthened.

Start eating sweet things.

Pop M&Ms for a few days.

Pop popcorn for a few days.

Buy a new video tape recorder. Go to a lot of movies. Exercise a lot. Sex is good exercise and a simply marvelous substitute for smoking.

OPTIONAL STEP: You might think about giving up coffee if it is inextricably intertwined with a cigarette. Coffee's not so wonderful for you either. But if you're not up for caffeine withdrawal (usually a headache lasting, maybe a week) and nicotine withdrawal, at least you can switch to a caffeine-full soda, like Coke or Pepsi or Tab or dozens of others.

It is not going to be easy, mind you. And you have to forget about dieting because you are going to crave sweet things. (New studies show that nicotine-addicted rats crave more sugar when their nicotine is taken away.) So you probably will put on a few pounds.

Worry about them tomorrow.

Today you have that cigarette craving to cope with. It is a craving. It is a real addiction. But the good news is that the nicotine urge, that overwhelming I've-got-to-have-a-butt desperation only lasts two minutes at a time. Sure, at first you may have a two-minute urge every three minutes, but it gets longer and longer between urges -- and if you keep reminding yourself that it's only two minutes . . . why in no time at all, you'll be the one they're calling "healthier than thou."

If you don't think you can do it alone, call the Lung Association, 783-LUNG for information on its program, the Cancer Society, 483-2600 for its free clinics, Washington Adventist Hospital for its 5-day plan, 891-5265, or any of the reputable and successful, albeit expensive, commercial programs like Smokenders.