To Andrea Appleton, smoking was always a way to get even.

Yes, thankfully, was. She quit on Jan. 9, 1981, after several false starts.

The immediate reason was illness. Andrea Appleton had a lingering cold that smoking wasn't helping.

But what kept Andrea on the wagon was her knowledge of herself. She had always used cigarettes to try to extract a measure of vengeance--and arriving at an understanding of that made it easier to give up smoking for good.

Andrea Appleton started smoking when she was 16, on the day her father refused to let her go to Ocean City with a carload of classmates from Rockville's Peary High School.

"I'll show you," she remembers thinking. Despite the pleas of her parents, who both smoked and still do, Andrea bummed a Virginia Slim from a friend. It wasn't long before she was smoking between 10 and 15 cigarettes a day.

"It was a dumb reason to start," said Andrea, who is now 25, lives in Silver Spring with her 5-year-old son Daniel and supervises the mailroom for a Rockville research company.

"I didn't start smoking because I wanted to. And every time I went back, it was for a dumb reason, too."

For example, she had a date one night with a man who seemed to have considerable romantic possibilities. But Mr. Possibilities never showed up. Andrea had not smoked in nine months, but out came the long-buried pack of Marlboros.

"I knew exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it," Andrea says. "Maybe I had even saved that pack in case something stressful happened, and I needed a crutch." She stares at her hamburger in the Rockville restaurant. Then she grimaces at the memory.

Another time, after 2 1/2 months without a cigarette, Andrea weighed herself. She is an extremely slight woman, 5-feet-2 and 115 pounds. But the scale that day said 130.

"I was depressed by that," Andrea says. Translation: time to use smoking as a means of vengeance, yet again. This time, though, the victim was Andrea herself. She resumed smoking for nearly a year.

The habit was not without its pleasures, however. "I used to love to watch the smoke go out," Andrea recalls. "I'd develop all these complicated ways of letting it curl out of my nose and under my tongue. And if I was bored, or under stress, there was nothing like it."

But even in so young a person, the physical evidence accumulates.

"I used to have sore throats all the time," Andrea recalls. "Every winter, I'd have colds that would never go away. In 1980, I cracked a rib from coughing so hard. There's so much evidence, it makes you wonder how you can ignore it."

Her nagging cold pushed Andrea Appleton over the edge. But she thinks she would have gotten there soon anyway.

"I think you have to be mentally prepared to quit, and I just about was," she says. "I had reached the point where every drag would make my throat just kind of catch. Every day, all day, you just feel rotten."

The 15 months since Andrea quit have not been a cakewalk. "Bars, that's hard, especially when I'm with friends who smoke," she says.

And more bad news may descend the next time she gets on a scale. "I think there's something to that business of substitute addictions. I do eat a little more now," she says.

But Andrea Appleton has reached the point that ex-smokers often call the clearest sign of being cured.

She pities smokers.

"People think a miracle's going to happen," Andrea says. "They think they'll just wake up one day and quit. It doesn't happen that way.

"I have one friend, a guy, who says, 'Oh, I just can't do it.' But he's just never really tried.

"And I have a girlfriend, you know, the kind who says, 'I can have one every once in a while.' But she smokes a lot more than just one."

What if another Mr. Possibility became a Mr. Invisibility? What if unforeseeable stress landed on her shoulders? Would Andrea Appleton ever smoke again?

"I don't think so," she said. "I feel comfortable with myself. I'm not hooked on those things any more. That's one less worry in my life."

Tomorrow: Joe Owens has "gotten religion."