School Superintendent Harry Pitt is commended for his Dec. 8 recommendation to the Montgomery County Board of Education that tobacco use by students be banned effective July 1, 1988.

For more than 18 years -- since April 21, 1969 -- the Montgomery County school system has permitted thousands of students to smoke on school grounds and thus opened them up to the risks of lung cancer, emphysema, coronary heart disease, complications of the esophagus, bladder and kidneys, arrested development and damage to their lungs. Such a policy has also facilitated the use and transfer of illicit drugs and narcotics on school grounds.

Each year, 350,000 Americans die of diseases linked to cigarette smoking. Because of this serious health hazard, the National School Boards Association has passed a resolution against the use of all tobacco products by students on school premises. School districts across the country are taking action to halt student smoking. In Maryland, 16 counties thus far have banned the use of tobacco on school property.

In presenting his recommendation for Montgomery County schools, Dr. Pitt recognized that the termination of smoking privileges will cause some problems, but he pointed out that he and a majority of high school principals feel that "the time has come to ban tobacco use by students because of the clear danger it represents to the health and longevity of young people."

As one who testified against smoking privileges on that fateful evening of April 21, 1969, as well as on subsequent occasions, I welcome the courageous recommendation of our newly appointed superintendent. As Dr. Pitt rightly asserted, the most important feature of the forthcoming vote by board members -- to be scheduled in January or February -- is that it will impart the official school system attitude toward the use of tobacco by students. I would certainly hope that all seven school board members unanimously support Dr. Pitt's recommendation.

MALCOLM LAWRENCE Coordinator, Maryland Coalition of Concerned Parents Chevy Chase