We regret that George F. Will, an intelligent conservative in the Burkean mold, has suspended his skepticism about state interference when it comes to the matter of airline smoking {"Antismoking Movement: It's Just Self-Defense," op-ed, Sept. 10}.

It is ironic that Will puts the issue in terms of "self-defense." These days it is smokers who must defend themselves against the intemperate attacks of zealous antismokers. Occasionally these attacks descend to insult and assault. More often, they take the form of attempts to ban smoking outright when reasonable accommodation can be made between smokers and nonsmokers.

The present smoking arrangements on domestic airlines represent just such a reasonable accommodation. Instead of being handed edicts, passengers are given a choice. Although antismoking extremists condemn the current policy of separate smoking and nonsmoking sections, studies show that the general public is much less concerned.

A report published last June by the Department of Transportation indicates that smoking accounts for a minuscule proportion of passenger complaints (2.2 percent). Instead, the study found that passengers are overwhelmingly concerned with flight safety, late flights, lost baggage and refund problems.

Nor is it true that smoking sections infringe on the rights of nonsmoking passengers. According to Robert L. Crandall, chairman and president of American Airlines, commercial jet airliners change the cabin air with outside fresh air every five minutes. This makes the air in the passenger compartment of planes generally superior to that in the average office building or shopping center.

The evidence does not warrant bringing the heavy hand of government to bear on this issue. We hope that Will, as a well-known advocate of government restraint, will reconsider his uncharacteristic support of state encroachment upon individual prerogatives.

Guy L. Smith IV

The writer is vice president for corporate affairs of Philip Morris.