MORRIS PLAINS, N.J. (AP) _ Strong sales of new anti-cholesterol and diabetes drugs drove a 30 percent third-quarter earnings increase for Warner-Lambert Co., the company said Thursday.

The Morris Plains, N.J.-based drug maker earned $198.3 million, or 73 cents a share, for the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with $152.7 million, or 56 cents a share, in the comparable 1996 period.

Sales reached $2.11 billion, up 19 percent from $1.77 billion for the same period last year.

Strong sales of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, which Warner-Lambert co-markets with Pfizer Inc., and the diabetes drug Rezulin, both introduced earlier this year, led the company's gains. Melvin R. Goodes, chairman and chief executive officer, said Lipitor was ``on pace to become one of the most successful first-year products in the history of the pharmaceutical industry.''

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, earnings rose 3 percent to $634 million, or $2.33 a share, from $616 million, or $2.27 a share, in the 1996 period.

Sales over the nine-month period rose 9 percent to $5.85 billion.

Drug sales compensated for comparatively weak results in Warner-Lambert's consumer health care and confectionery segments.

Worldwide pharmaceutical sales were up 57 percent to $948 million. U.S. sales increased 102 percent to $585 million.

Worldwide sales in the company's consumer health care segment declined by 3 percent, to $671 million for the quarter. The results were hurt by unfavorable foreign exchange rates, the company said. U.S. sales increased slightly, to $363 million for the quarter from $362 million a year ago.

In the confectionery segment, worldwide sales increased 3 percent to $489 million. Segment sales in the U.S. increased 16 percent to $182 million, helped by improved sales of Dentyne gum and Certs mints.

Warner-Lambert shares closed down $1.31 1/4 at $147.68 3/4 amid a broad market decline on the New York Stock Exchange.