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The report in last week's Advertising Age that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has been talking with North Carolina's attorney general about a "model" state law to curb youth smoking is encouraging.

RJR's North Carolina conversations, and Philip Morris Cos.' earlier sweeping proposals for compromise legislation at the federal level, are smart politics. But this is more important than just tactical maneuvering to fend off President Clinton's overly broad youth smoking plan.

Now that RJR has joined PM in exploring possible compromises, this industry plainly has come to terms with the need for change. For RJR, whose Joe Camel marketing campaigns have been special targets for anti-tobacco forces, it's a significant step.

The North Carolina attorney general's proposals, like President Clinton's, call for tobacco marketers to pull back from a number of advertising media and sponsorship venues. A key part of this or any other youth smoking program must be tougher state and local enforcement of existing laws that bar tobacco sales to minors. Under the North Carolina plan, the tobacco industry would make funds available for state law enforcement or for anti-youth smoking ads to complement state efforts to curb illegal sales. That makes more sense than Food & Drug Administration ultimatums that declare only b&w tombstone cigarette ads are fit for magazines that kids might read.

The willingness to accept some restrictions on present practices can help refocus new youth smoking efforts away from censorship of truthful advertising-as the FDA demands-and toward more advertising and other efforts aimed directly at discouraging teen smoking and keeping cigarettes out of youngsters' hands. That's an approach the rest of the ad industry should be able to support.

The promotions this month of Shelly Lazarus (to CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide) and Helayne Spivak (to worldwide creative director of Ammirati Puris Lintas) are important steps forward in the continuing diversification of the ad industry. O&M Chairman Charlotte Beers rightfully points out that Ms. Lazarus' being a woman is "incidental" to her promotion; but even Ms. Lazarus in The New York Times quoted a magazine editor who told her, "Each time young women read about [successful women] they get more optimistic about their own futures."

How true. And the industry's track record in hiring and promoting women has been terrific. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, well over half the people who work in advertising-and at ad agencies-are women. And more women like Ms. Beers, Ms. Lazarus and Ms. Spivak are climbing to the highest levels of the business.

Too bad the industry's record in hiring and promoting minorities isn't as bright. There isn't much reliable data available; but, as one potential source of information on the number of minorities in advertising said last week, "It's pretty dismal." Various industry groups, including the American Association of Advertising Agencies, are devoting resources to the issue. The Advertising Club of New York just last week put together a panel discussion on "Why diversity works." The Ad Club used the forum to premiere a video, underwritten by AT&T, that encourages minority college students to consider careers in advertising.

We hope the industry's efforts succeed so that in the future, when a woman or minority is named to the top spot at a leading ad company, their race and gender are truly "incidental."

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