The myth persists that one can help a sick child by accumulating thousands of empty cigarette packages.

The story has frequently been exposed as false, but somehow it lives on.

I state to you categorically that the story is not true. Nobody has offered free time on a kidney machine or a lung machine in exchange for empty cigarette packages. Nobody. Nevertheless, people all over the United States continue to save their own empties and to search through wastebaskets for more.

One woman recently asked the D.C. Lung Association whether she could turn over her empty packages to the association. The woman had been told that the association serves as a collection center, and that in exchange for empty cigarette packages it provides iron lungs for needy children.

Unfornately, the woman did her collecting first and checked on the facts afterward.

She now knows it would have been better to check the facts before wasting her time and effort. The association had no choice but to tell the good-hearted woman the place to "turn in" her empties was a trash can.

The woman's reaction, quite understandably, was: "Why would anybody initiate a story of this kind if it were not true? Why would anybody waste the time and energy of charitably inclined people who want to help others? What can we do to expose this hoax?"

Marisa Sandifer of the Lung Association wonders whether I might "insert a line" in this column to let people know about the hoax.

Yes, Marisa. I can put more than a line into the column, and I frequently have. But the collections continue.

People instinctively try to help those who are less fortunate. We respond readily to an appeal designed to help a sick child. But when it turns out that the appeal was a hoax and the only sick person involved was the one who initiated the false story, we yearn for the day the culprit will be caught and punished.

If empty cigarette packages are being collected where you work, it might help if you'd clip this column and post it on your bulletin board.