"Two years ago," writes a man who doesn't want his name used, "my doctor warned me to stop smoking. He presented evidence that my health was being seriously affected, and piled it on so strong that I finally made up my mind to kick the habit."

Stopping was a frightful battle for me because I had become a real addict. Nobody has ever been hooked on drugs any worse than I was on cigarettes.

"It took months before I was rid of the strong and frequent craving for cigarettes. And even after being 'off' for two years, I'd feel the urge to smoke occasionally.

"So you can imagine my feelings when I went to a banquet three weeks ago and found a little packet of sample cigarettes beside my dinner plate.

"All through the meal, I couldn't concentrate on the food. I kept wondering what harm there would be if I were to enjoy just one good smoke after the dinner was over.

"Needles to say, by the time I was finished eating, my willpower had evaporated. I lit one of the cigarettes. Then another. And before the night was out, I had smoked up all the sample cigarettes within reach, and I have been smoking like a maniac ever since. What do you think about the practice of distributing free cigarette samples?"

An Alexandria woman wants me to comment on a letter sent to her by Product Opinion Laboratory of Richmond inviting her to participate in a consumer opinion poll on cigarettes.

POL offered to send the woman a free carton of cigarettes, half bearing one coded identification and half antoher. After smoking the 200 cigarettes, all the woman would have to do would be to give her opinion of the two brands. Fair enough?

The Alexandria woman didn't think so. "I saw red," she wrote. "I think this is nothing but another trap by the tobacco people to snare people into - or back into - smoking. What do you think?"

A preliminary questionnaire that was enclosed asked for information about the woman's name, address, phone number, sex, race, occupation, employer, education, and smoking habits.

What do I think about all this? I think cigarette companies are using the familiar "free sample" technique to win new customers, and that it simply is not accurate to say that such merchandising ensnares people against their will.

A mature person with common sense is seldom ensnared. If he becomes involved, it is because he wants to become involved - whether or not he admits' this to himself.

We often blame lack of willpower for our shortcomings, but the excuse seems lame to me. A normal adult usually does what he wants to do. If he then feels guilty for wanting to do something he knows he shouldn't want to do, he may look for wanting to do something he knows he shouldn't want to do, he may look for something like the Lord's failure to provide him with enough willpower. I say that anybody who really makes up his mind to stop smoking will stop, regardless of how many snares the Devil sets for him.