The smokers and the nonsmokers had their greatest battle on a shuttle from Washington to New York last week. The smokers claimed the nonsmokers started it when a puffer lit up a Virginia Slim and an antismoker activist threw a pail of water at her.

The antismoker said she only threw the water because she thought the passenger was on fire. To show support for one of their own, all the smokers lit up and started blowing black tar at the nonsmokers, many of whom were senior citizens flying at half price.

Several nonsmokers put sick bags over their faces and attacked the smoking section, assaulting the smokers with weighted briefcases and duty-free shopping bags.

The smokers rose as a group and set the sick bags on fire with their cigarette lighters. The stewardesses put the fires out and, to restore order, gave an extra demonstration of how to evacuate the airplane using the life jackets located under everybody's seat.

To stop any further rioting the captain put on the "no smoking" sign. This angered a man who was not only a smoker but an executive of a large tobacco company.

"I know my Constitution. I have as much right to smoke as these tawdry people have not to," he said to a stewardess who was selling coffee, tea or milk from a cart in the aisle.

"Smoking is bad for my health," the stewardess said.

"Medical tests show it doesn't hurt anyone's health," the executive told her.

"But it stinks up my clothes."

"Sit down," a nonsmoking man said to the executive. "You're blocking my view of Philadelphia."

A lady in the smoking section started to hyperventilate. "I can't breathe," she cried. "I have to have a cigarette."

A smoker who looked like a Marlboro Man strolled down the aisle, lit up, leaned over and encouraged her to puff.

"It says no smoking on the sign," a passenger yelled angrily.

"This is an emergency," the Marlboro Man said. "Without a cigarette this lady could die."

"Stewardess, I want to speak to the captain," the nonsmoker said.

The captain came out of his cabin carrying an Uzi submachine gun.

"What are you doing with that gun?" the nonsmoking passenger asked.

"We carry them now to break up arguments between smokers and nonsmokers on the shuttle. We used to have rubber bullets and water cannons, but they didn't have enough force to pacify people on the flights. Now what's the problem?"

"That man is permitting this lady to smoke, and she's blowing it into the nonsmoking section. Throw them the hell off the plane."

"I can't do that. We have rules we must abide by." The pilot went over to the woman, who was lying on the floor. "Are you all right?"

"A couple more puffs will do it," she said.

"Why don't you go outside on the wing of the plane?" the pilot suggested.

"Is that permitted?" the woman asked.

"Everything is permitted since deregulation."