Congressional supporters of the ban on smoking on most airline flights are moving to try to make the restrictions permanent, heralding a replay of the 1987 battle that pitted tobacco interests against health groups.

Supporters of the prohibition, who fought a long-odds campaign two years ago, will be loaded with ammunition this time around.Government statistics show that there have been few problems connected with the restrictions. Officials from the airline industry - which had opposed the legislation - and the flight attendants' unions say the ban has mostly worked out just fine. And supporters in Congress say they believe the public is pleased with the rules.

"Whenever I'm introduced at speaking engagements and it's pointed out that I'm the Senate author of the smoking ban, it's an applause line," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., a sponsor of the bill in 1987. "It goes over better than my jokes."

Reps. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Bill Young, R-Fla. - authors of the legislation that became law - introduced a bill last Tuesday, the first day of the 101st Congress, that would make permanent the current prohibition on flights of two hours or less.

The measure has already attracted 50 co-sponsors, and other bills that would prohibit smoking on all routes are likely to follow.

Without an extension, the ban - which took effect last April - would expire in April 1990.

The lawmakers want to move on the extension this year because their best chance for success may be to attach their legislation to spending bills, which are passed late in the year. Waiting until 1990 may be too late.

Tobacco industry officials say that as they did in 1987, they will oppose the smoking ban.

"The system of separating smokers from non-smokers worked, and there was no need to do what they did," said Gary Miller, a spokesman for the Washington-based Tobacco Institute, the industry's trade group.

Miller said there is no evidence that the $33 billion-a-year cigarette industry has lost sales because of the airline smoking restrictions, which affect four-fifths of domestic flights. Cigarette sales have declined by about 2 percent annually for about six years, a drop attributed to general attitudes about smoking, he said.

At least one original opponent of the ban now concedes that the system has worked. The airline industry, which initially feared that enforcing the restrictions would cause problems for flight crews, says the crews simply refer disruptive situations to local authorities.

"None of the horror stories people anticipated have materialized," said spokeswoman Leslie Rowland of the Air Transport Association, the Washington office that represents the nation's airlines.

Industry touts poll

The tobacco industry, bidding to stem the tide of anti-smoking rules, Mondaytook out newspaper ads around the country declaring "Enough is enough" and touted a survey indicating three of four Americans do not support smoking bans in workplaces and restaurants.

A spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, Brennan Dawson, noted some anti-smoking groups are pushing for a "smoke-free" society. "To achieve their purposes," he said, "anti-smokers are turning to censorship, harassment, punitive taxes and intrusion into personal and private decision-making."

"The majority of Americans, according to objective polling, do not support these anti-smoking efforts," he said.