In his Oct. 3 op-ed column, George F. Will claims that because people know that cigarettes are bad for them, it's their own fault if they get sick from smoking.

But people don't really realize how dangerous smoking is. Fully half of long-term smokers eventually die from a cause attributable to tobacco; these people on average die 15 years prematurely. Tobacco addiction towers over all other causes of preventable death and is by far the nation's No. 1 cause of preventable death. Conservatively, more than one out of six deaths in the United States is attributable to tobacco.

Most smokers become addicted as minors, when they are too naive to resist the tobacco industry's multibillion-dollar marketing campaigns. Most smokers try to quit and fail.

The justice system is society's last chance to protect itself from the relentless tobacco industry.

JOSEPH ADAMS

Towson

The writer is a medical doctor.

George Will commited an error of omission in tackling the Environmental Protection Agency's 1993 report on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). While a federal judge found fault with the agency's claims that the smoke causes lung cancer in nonsmokers, he did not question -- and the tobacco industry did not challenge -- the report's finding that exposure to ETS is harmful to children.

ETS increases the risk of lower-respiratory-tract infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia in children and causes an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 cases annually in infants and very young children. The EPA also reported that each year exposure worsens the conditions of an estimated 200,000 to one million children with asthma, can cause asthma in children and may contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A 1997 analysis by the California Environmental Protection Agency confirmed those conclusions and also supported the federal EPA's findings on lung cancer deaths.

JOHN R. GARRISON

Chief Executive Officer

American Lung Association

New York