To the editor:

"Don't support tobacco exports" (March 5) is typically abundant with anti-tobacco rhetoric but fails to mention how critical tobacco exports are to America's economic well being.It is important to realize that the cigarette market already exists in Asia. If American brands are denied entry, smokers in these countries will not stop smoking, they will simply not smoke American cigarettes.

In Thailand, overall consumption has risen in recent years, yet American cigarettes are virtually banned. China saw much the same as consumption has increased while American products have generally been unavailable.

Tobacco is one of the few American industries that has the ability to produce a world-class export product. The fact is that some Asian smokers prefer and are demanding American cigarettes. American business must be allowed to participate in trade and bring money back into this country.

In recent years, tobacco exports have been an increasingly positive factor in our bleak trade outlook, contributing $3 billion in trade surplus in 1988.

Domestically, tobacco exports maintain employment and earnings as the secretary of commerce recently said that every billion dollars in exports creates 25,000 American jobs. New business created by tobacco exports will add substantially more revenue to our trade picture as well.

An overwhelming national interest in improving exports and reducing the trade deficit is at stake. Exporting anti-smoking initiatives will only endanger a favorable contribution to the national trade balance and will not reduce tobacco consumption in other countries.

As the article mentioned, export of tobacco to Asia is a trade issue. Each country, through culture, custom and government, has developed policies regarding tobacco which adequately serve their purposes.

Asian governments do not need the U.S. Congress encroaching upon matters strictly within their domain. Such attempts are not only intrusive but are adverse to American economic interests.

Gary R. Miller

The Tobacco Institute

Washington, D.C.