Robert Rosner really knows how to clear the air, literally and figuratively, and this ability has won him respect from smokers and non-smokers.

Rosner, executive director of the Smoking Policy Institute, was recently awarded the Surgeon General's Medallion in a surprise ceremony at the private office of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop."You have a knack for going in and achieving a smoke-free workplace and making people like it," Koop said.

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the first surgeon general's report that connected smoking with increased risk of lung cancer.

Cigarette smoking has been a prime target of Koop, who has called for a "smoke-free society by the year 2000" and announced in May that nicotine in tobacco is as addictive as heroin and cocaine.

Statistics show Americans consumed an estimated 573 billion cigarettes last year, and that 300,000 to 500,000 of them die every year because they smoke.

Rosner, whose group is based in Seattle, was clearly surprised by the award; he had dropped by Koop's office for a brief greeting.

The surgeon general said "the institute is a credible, visible and centralized information resource, committed to protecting people from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke in the workplace and to helping business develop healthy options to smoking in the workplace."

The National Cancer Institute described the program as "widely acknowledged as the nation's technical expert on the issue of environmental tobacco smoke and its impact in the workplace."

The institute has helped determine who may smoke at work and where at organizations as diverse as Pacific Northwest Bell, CIGNA Health-plan of Arizona and Ralston Purina headquarters in St. Louis.