Sunday's Washington Post brought the news that a new movement is afoot: It is growing rapidly, it saves money and promotes health, it is rooted in fundamental considerations of clean air and human courtesy. And it's going to cause a lot of trouble.

The movement's goal, in its most extreme manifestation, is to ban smoking in the workplace. Short of that, the goal is to ban smoking in most of the workplace, setting aside certain areas where poor benighted souls, still in the clutches of the devil weed, could slink off to slake their cravings. "CAUTION:" the sign above the entrance to the sealed area could read, "THIS AREA IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK."

Ingenious dabblers in human behavior could put a glassed area smack in the middle of the larger workplace so that enlightened persons, persons of discipline and character, could stare and shake their heads at the nicotine addicts while they are lighting up. Shame them into giving up the habit -- that'll do it.

All the claims and denials by the tobacco industry aside, anybody with any sense at all knows that smoking is harmful to your health and there is growing evidence that people who hang around smokers may suffer damaging effects, too. They may not have yellow teeth, bad breath and hacking coughs, but anyone who knows someone who is allergic to cigarette smoke can attest to the fact that exposure to a few good puffs can reduce that person to a sneezing, teary-eyed basket case.

These "exposed" people have gotten a label: They are now known as passive smokers, and according to the newspaper, they amount to two-thirds of the population. The American Cancer Institute's director of cancer prevention says "evidence is piling up" that passive smokers are at increased risk of getting lung cancer.

Passive smokers also aren't so passive anymore.

They have been going to court to sue for smoke-free working environments; they've been calling their unions, posting "no smoking" signs in their offices or at their desks, complaining to their employers and developing a generally militant attitude that their right to breathe clean air is at least as important, if not more important, than their colleagues' right to pollute the air. Heaven knows they have right on their side, and they are getting results.

A consultant who helps companies develop smoking policies estimated that half the companies in the country have now set up some smoking policy and predicted half of them will have banned smoking within five years to save money.

The latest to do so is Pacific Northwest Bell, where 15,000 employes won't be able to smoke at work after Oct. 15. The consultant's firm did a study that showed a smoker costs a company $4,000 a year in "health and life insurance, absenteeism, cleaning and maintenance, and work time wasted by smoking."

A study of 1,000 big companies found four of them simply didn't hire people who smoke. Which raises some interesting questions, such as what happens to a non-smoker who starts smoking again? Can he be fired?

If the reader detects a certain ambivalence in the foregoing, the reader gets an A for detection. What creates this ambivalence is a deep-seated sense of respect for the power that addictions wield over the human body and spirit. And smoking is perhaps the worse addiction of all: A cigarette is good when you're relaxed and when you're under stress; it's handy when you get on the phone and when you get off.

It punctuates the ending of a meal and helps begin the day. It's the ideal accompaniment for a cup of coffee or a drink of wine. And when somebody has just made a remark you want to ponder for a moment, "Listen, Joe, I want to talk to you about your job performance," well, that's the time to take out the cigarette and make a great to-do of lighting up while you are thinking fast.

People who have never smoked have no reason to understand all this; reformed smokers ought to understand, but having conquered human weakness themselves, they all too often believe everyone else should do so as well. They can be more intolerant than non-smokers.

Smokers are on the defensive, as well they should be. Perhaps banning smoking in the workplace will help them quit -- either the habit or their job.

There's no question that the movement to ban smoking has been fueled by smokers' lack of consideration for those around them, by those who light up without so much as a "Do you mind?" The tables have turned now, the tide has changed: Non-smokers have launched a crusade, but for the sake of peace in the workplace, let us hope it is tempered with understanding. themselves, they all too often believe everyone else should do so as well. They can be more intolerant than non-smokers.

Smokers are on the defensive, as well they should be. Perhaps banning smoking in the workplace will help them quit -- either the habit or their job.

There's no question that the movement to ban smoking has been fueled by smokers' lack of consideration for those around them, by those who light up without so much as a "Do you mind?" The tables have turned now, the tide has changed: Non-smokers have launched a crusade, but for the sake of peace in the workplace, let us hope it is tempered with understanding.