Lung cancer overtook breast cancer in 1985 to become the most common fatal cancer in women, according to mortality figures projected by the American Cancer Society. The society estimated that 38,600 women died of lung cancer in 1985, while 38,400 died of breast cancer. Preliminary reports from more than a dozen states confirmed that lung cancer had become the most frequent cause of cancer death for women, but final figures on 1985 deaths are not expected to be tabulated until late this year.

Lung cancer is still more common in males than females, killing an estimated 87,000 American men in 1985. But that appears to be changing. The National Cancer Institute reported that new lung cancers in men had decreased by 4 percent from 1982 to 1983 -- the first sign that the disease has started to decline in males, after increasing each year for more than 50 years. A reduction in smoking among men was cited as the reason.

Some experts predicted that by the year 2000 lung cancer would be a "woman's disease," more common in females than in males.

The new preeminence of lung cancer in women was one reason for heightened campaigns against smoking in 1985. Invoking the U.S. surgeon general's goal of a smoke-free society by the year 2000, the American Heart Association and the American Medical Association both called for a ban on tobacco advertising -- a move already supported by the American Lung Association. The AMA pledged to work for legislation to achieve it, although legal experts said such a ban might be unconstitutional.

The first of a series of tobacco product liability suits opened in California. Smoking restrictions in the workplace were adopted by several large corporations, and mounting concerns about the hazards of passive smoking fueled activists' drives for local antismoking ordinances.