The General Assembly today found itself unable to resolve one of the burning issues on its agenda: whether to ban smoking at its meetings.

The proposal was initiated by Dr. Halfdan Mahler, director of the World Health Organization. Under it smoking would be banned from the smaller U.N. conference rooms and restricted to the rear and sides of the larger chambers, as a one-year experiment.

The idea was hotly opposed by Ernesto Rodriguez Medina of Colombia, who warned that diplomatic tensions might heat up if smokers couldn't light up.

British Ambassador Sir John Thomson offered a tongue-in-cheek compromise--"to relieve tensions, the Secretariat should supply conference rooms with plentiful quantities of Scotch whisky."

Shrog Chavanavirag of Thailand said that as a chain smoker he would find it difficult to preside as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Human Rights without an occasional puff.

His close friend, Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, countered that "smokers have their human right--but not in circumstances in which my rights are infringed upon." He argued that it had been "scientifically demonstrated" that smoking harmed both smokers and those around them.

In the end, however, Koh said, "I'm not a fanatic--I appreciate the problems that addicts like my friend Shrog have."

And so the Assembly's 25-member steering committee agreed that more time was needed to negotiate a compromise in one of the U.N.'s smoke-filled rooms. A decision was put off into the hazy future.