Under the direction of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the United States has for years sent strong warnings to Americans about the dangers of smoking.

But that hasn't stopped tobacco companies from making major inroads in Asia. In 1987, U.S. tobacco sales to Asia leaped by 76 percent.Yet that's not the worst of it. It appears that the tobacco industry has been aided in its sales efforts overseas by the U.S. Special Trade Representative's office and other agencies, which have waged a highly effective campaign against foreign trade barriers on U.S. tobacco.

This double standard has members of Congress fuming about the use of taxpayer money to "export death." Rep. Mel Levine, D-Calif., Rep. Chet Atkins, D-Mass., and several allies will introduce legislation that would forbid the U.S. government from going to bat for U.S. tobacco firms overseas.

Not surprisingly, the Tobacco Institute has already announced it will fight the legislation. The institute is especially unhappy about a provision in the measure that would require exported tobacco to carry the surgeon general's warning about the hazards of smoking.

Industry officials argue that export of tobacco to Asia is a trade issue, not a health issue, and point to the need to reduce the balance of trade deficit.

While no one wants to see the trade deficit grow, it appears that by helping tobacco companies peddle their goods outside of this country, the U.S. government is engaging in an outrageous double standard.

As Levine has noted, the government appears to be saying that Asian lungs are more expendable than American lungs.

Congressional backers of the new legislation are heading in the right direction. Let's not export death to Asians while warning Americans that cigarettes kill.