U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill has been kissing a lot of babies recently -- but not for the usual political reasons. O'Neill is chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Public Awareness Campaign for the Washington area chapter.

O'Neill recently visited with Chris Tonkinson and Chuck Chaffers, the foundation's poster representatives from Northern Virginia. Chris is the son of Eugene and Susan Tonkinson of Centreville and Chuck is the son of Charles and Pearline Chaffers of Alexandria.

As for kissing babies, foundation spokesmen say it is an easy way to detect cystic fibrosis. If you kiss your child and find a salty taste it could be an early sign of the disease, since CF victims often have four to five times the salt level in their perspiration as normal children.

Cystic fibrosis, which attacks the respiratory and digestive systems, is the country's No. 1 genetic killer of young people. In the Washington area, three new grants from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation may help some 250 children and young adults afflicted with the disease. The grants total $46,865 and will go to Children's Hospital, Georgetown University Hospital and the Pediatric Metabolism Branch at National Institutes of Health.