NONSMOKERS WHO believe that passengers confined to close quarters such as airline cabins should not be forced to breath tobacco fumes are doing a slow burn.

After a recent U.S. Appeals Court decision against the Civil Aeronautics Board's handling of federal rules on smoking aboard aircraft, the CAB's initial response indicates there may be more smoke before a final move by the government to put out the fire.

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) took the CAB to court after the agency eliminated three major provisions designed to protect nonsmokers. Last January the court ruled, as ASH had long contended, that the CAB had failed to justify its action that weakened regulation of smoking aboard commercial flights. The ruling thus reinstated the three provisions. The court also told the CAB it must consider three other ASH proposals to protect passengers from tobacco smoke.

A nonprofit consumer organization "concerned with the problems of smoking and the rights of nonsmokers," ASH had informed its supporters in a newsletter immediately after the court's decision that, if implemented, "it could offer substantially increased protection in many areas . . ." John F. Banzhaf, chief counsel of ASH, then warned that "there will be many pressures on the agency to avoid the intent of the decision" by again eliminating the provisions without permitting any consumer comment.

What the board did last month was to again revoke the three regulations, giving its reasons. "We feel we complied with what the court ordered us to do," says Mark Frisbie, trial attorney for the CAB. But according to Banzhaf, the CAB did not provide for a "new rule-making proceeding," which would have given opponents a broader opportunity to challenge the agency's proposals. Antismoking forces claim the government's response could cause the dispute to drag on until the CAB goes out of business in 1984.

However, Frisbie says "we are definitely considering prosposals to ban cigar and pipe smoking, ban smoking on small aircraft, providing some special protection for unusually susceptible passengers and banning smoking when ventilation is not adequate." These proposals, "part of a rule-making procedure," are to be published soon.

ASH also is concerned about two other major problem areas: protecting passengers against drifting tobacco smoke and banning smoking on short flights.

The CAB and ASH have now agreed to present their arguments to the Appeals Court by the end of this month.

Current CAB regulations state that "nothing . . . shall be deemed to require carriers to permit the smoking of tobacco aboard aircraft," thus smoking is not an automatic right for airline passengers. U.S. airlines--which do not want to lose business by offending anyone--maintain they are neither for nor against smoking, and would prefer to set their own rules without government interference.

If you want to make your views known to the CAB--whether as a nonsmoker or smoker--write the Civil Aeronautics Board, "Smoking Regulations," 1825 Connecticut Ave. NW., Washington, D.C. 20428.

ASH, at 2013 H St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20006, depends on tax-deductible contributions. It is still offering a free wallet-size card listing applicable CAB rules on smoking on one side, and information on how to prepare a formal complaint on the other. Send a stamped, self-addressed business-size envelope.

TRIPS FOR NONSMOKERS: The nonprofit Nonsmokers' Travel Club of GASP (Group Against Smokers' Pollution) continues to inform its 1,400 members around the country of travel facilities and trips for nonsmokers. From its current list:

June 12-17--Asheville, N.C. (Biltmore Estate, Cherokee Indian Reservation); Charleston, S.C. (harbor cruise, Middleton Gardens, Cypress Gardens, Magnolia Gardens); Norfolk, Va. (MacArthur Memorial). Aug. 18-Sept.6--Holland, Germany, Austria & Switzerland. Oct. 8--Gettysburg, Pa. (Eisenhower Memorial Site, Miniature Horse Farm). Nov. 6-29_South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji & Hawaii).

On trips involving air travel, members are seated in the middle of the nonsmoking section of a scheduled airline. Bus travel is on an "exclusive-use bus with nonsmoking driver and tour guide." Meals not aloft are served in private dining rooms or nonsmoking sections when available.

For more information, send a stamped addressed business envelope to Nonsmokers' Travel Club, 8928 Bradmoor Dr., Bethesda, Md. 20817, or phone 301-530-1664. Annual dues are $4.

LOUISIANA WORLD EXPOSITION: Memories of the Knoxville 1982 World's Fair have barely begun to dim for some travelers, but already New Orleans is touting its 1984 show of shows, which will run from May 12 through Nov. 11.

Admission prices--in case you're planning a year ahead--have been set. Tickets for one-day and two-consecutive-day visits are: adult (12-54), $15 and $28; child/senior citizen (4-11, 55 and over), $14 and $26. Each ticket covers unlimited rides on the monorail around the site and entry to all pavilions, exhibits and regularly scheduled entertainment. There will also be group rates. Season passes go on sale in November.

New Orleans is expecting more than 11 million visitors to the fair, whose theme is "The World of Rivers . . . Fresh Water as a Source of Life." The main exposition site, 82 acres of riverfront land in the historic downtown Warehouse District, has been "underused and deteriorating." Now it has become the spearhead of central business district expansion with 27 buildings currently being rehabilitated.

More information from Department of Ticket Sales, Louisiana World Exposition Inc., P.O. Box 1984, New Orleans 70158-1984.

DRIVE ALERT: Though careful drivers are supposed to break up long hauls by stopping at intervals to snack or stretch, taking turns at the wheel, spending the night at a motel, or--as a last resort--simply pulling over on the shoulder of the road (where permitted) for a rest, it's easy to misjudge endurance.

Now comes Drive Alert, a patented alarm device that warns a driver of approaching sleep.

Constructed of lightweight, high-impact plastic and weighing 1 ounce, the battery-operated unit is contoured to fit on a driver's right or left ear and can be used with or without eyeglasses. It is activated by a small external index switch whose sensitivity can be adjusted according to the wearer's need. When the driver's head begins to nod, Drive Alert detects the motion and triggers an 86-decibel, 2000-hertz buzzing signal to prevent dozing.

The American Automobile Association is offering the unit through local AAA clubs for sale to members. It can be purchased directly from the manufacturer, SAFEX Inc., P.O. Box 7-110, West Hartford, Conn. 06107, for $29.95 postpaid; or phone (203) 643-1242 for further information.