Better-educated Americans smoke far less since the surgeon general first warned of tobacco's dangers 25 years ago, but by 2000, 30 percent of those who never went beyond high school will still be lighting up, researchers reported Friday.

Poorer and less educated people are missing the message that smoking is linked to cancer and other numerous health problems, said researchers at the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta."Smoking prevalence has declined across all educational groups, but the decline has occurred five times faster among the higher educated compared with the less educated," they reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One reason may be that much of the antismoking message has gone out in newspapers and medical journals, typically read by the better educated, said Dr. Michael C. Fiore, a leader of the CDC group.

"Little has gone out via mass media, especially television," he said in a telephone interview Thursday from Madison, Wis., where he is now an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin Medical Center.

From 1974 to 1985, the number of U.S. smokers among people who had completed four years of college plummeted by more than a third, from 28.5 percent to 18.4 percent, the CDC group said.

But the corresponding drop among people who never graduated from high school was 2.1 percent, from 36.3 percent to 34.2 percent, the researchers found.

Fiore said that while the number of smokers overall is decreasing steadily - from more than 40 percent in the 1960s to less than 29 percent by 1987 - differences in smoking patterns based on educational status stand out more than those based on gender and race.

About 1.3 million Americans quit smoking annually between 1974 and 1985, but about 1 million young people joined the smoking ranks each year during the 1980s, the researchers said.

The researchers, co-led by John P. Pierce, said that if the trend continues, 22 percent of the population 20 and older in the year 2000 will smoke, compared with 30 percent in 1985.