I received the pamphlet several years ago, although it means more today than it did at that time.

"Think about it this way," it read. "Each year more African Americans die from smoking-related diseases than die from AIDS, drug abuse, car accidents and homicides -- combined."

I frequently wrote about such tragedies -- especially black-on-black crime -- all while puffing on a cigarette. Eventually, the hypocrisy became more painful than the cough that accompanied my nicotine habit.

A friend told me that the D.C. Chapter of the American Lung Association offered a smoking cessation class, which is where I received the pamphlet.

Today, eight months after my last cigarette, I still want a smoke -- especially now. But it helps to write about the lung association and its Christmas Seal Gala, which will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Washington Hotel on Capitol Hill.

This way, I feel like I'm doing something positive, rather than feeling sorry for myself because the tobacco industry got its hooks into me.

I can recall, more than 20 years later, exactly why I began smoking: to look cool. So what happened? My teeth turned brown, lips turned blue, eyes turned yellow and lungs turned black.

I wish I could say that the American Lung Association's stop-smoking course was all it took. But it was a first step toward freedom. I can say one thing: I learned from the lung association that I didn't have to die from tar and carbon monoxide smoke -- if I did not want to. It was a chink in the nicotine demon's armor. Cigarettes would never taste the same.

The D.C. chapter of the lung association was founded in 1902 by a black social worker, W.S. Duffield, in response to the tuberculosis epidemic that was killing District blacks at three times the rate of whites.

The association eventually brought "consumption," as tuberculosis was called, under control. But then came the tobacco industry, with a product that kills blacks at a rate 10 times greater than whites in Washington.

"The tobacco industry spends over $2.4 billion a year on advertising and promotion of cigarettes," says the lung association pamphlet. "Think about it: That is $5,000 every minute of every hour, 365 days a year."

But the lung association was getting its message across too.

According to two recent studies by the federal Census Bureau and the D.C. Commission on Public Health, the number of people in the District who smoke cigarettes has declined dramatically during the past five years.

About 53.5 percent of the District's adult smoking population have quit, the studies concluded. The greatest decline was among black men, with only 24 percent of them still smoking compared with 35 percent in 1985.

"All of the jumping up and down, all of the screaming, all the educational efforts have paid off," said Georges C. Benjamin, the D.C. commissioner of public health. "People are really listening."

But the war is far from over.

Now that adults are getting the message, the tobacco industry appears to be targeting children.

Even as the American Lung Association -- in conjunction with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association -- was promoting the "Smoke-free Class of 2000" for thousands of first graders, the D.C. school board was accepting a million-dollar grant from Philip Morris Cos. Inc.

"Look at your favorite magazine, or at billboards in your community -- especially the ones near schools and youth centers," says the lung association. "The tobacco industry is using black Americans to sell their drug -- nicotine -- to other black Americans."

The D.C. Chapter of the American Lung Association has come a long way in its fight against lung disease. However, with the deadly AIDS virus, and its ability to suppress the immune system, Washington is seeing a dangerous increase in tuberculosis -- the association's first foe.

And with the tobacco industry undermining efforts to protect District schoolchildren from the deadly cigarette habit, the lung association is fighting do-or-die battles on two major fronts.

The lung association needs help like never before in its fight against TB and tobacco. Attend the gala. Mail a tax-deductible check to 475 H St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001. Or call 202-682-5864 for more information.

But most of all, if you smoke, at least set a date to stop. Ask the American Lung Association for help. They are not exaggerating: It is a matter of life and breath versus death.