Monthly Archives: February 2009

In Memory of Dr. A. Judson Wells (1917-2008)

Dr. A. Judson Wells

Dr. A. Judson Wells

In early January and February, 2009, appeals were sent out to members or supporters to join or rejoin Missouri GASP. One such e-mail went to A. Judson Wells, Ph.D., a retired chemist whom I first got to know in 1987 after learning of a ground-breaking paper he had presented at the 6th World Conference on Smoking and Health in Tokyo, Japan, in November, 1987. The paper was entitled “Passive Smoking and Adult Mortality” and in it Judson Wells reached some controversial conclusions about how harmful secondhand smoke was to exposed healthy nonsmokers.

That same year, in a paper he wrote published in Environment International entitled “An Estimate of Adult Mortality in the United States from Passive Smoking,” he calculated the total annual death toll from secondhand tobacco smoke to be 46,000, a far more dramatic number than the approximately 3,000 deaths previously attributed solely to lung cancer.

His total was made up of lung cancer (3,000), heart disease (32,000) and other cancers (11,000), totals he refined in subsequent work. According to an article published in Tobacco Control, “He was the first person to highlight the connection between passive smoking and heart disease.”

Judson Wells included breast cancer among the “other cancers.” For years the idea of breast cancer being causally related to secondhand smoke was dismissed because there was no clear link between active smoking and breast cancer. That is now changing, but several years ago I called into the local KWMU Public Radio show, St. Louis on the Air, during a discussion of Breast Cancer Awareness to note the connection Judson Wells had drawn between breast cancer and secondhand smoke. The female doctor on the show scoffed at the idea.

I was concerned when my e-mail to Judson bounced back and called his wife. She confirmed that he had died February 19, 2008, at age 90.

I looked in a file of published papers Judson had been kind enough to mail me years ago. It included this memo. from him:

“Enclosed is a copy you requested of my Tokyo paper on deaths from passive smoking. The number of deaths may seem high, and the number is probably controversial, but I can assure you the science is sound and the number is about right.”

He added: “Good luck in your own very important work.”

Opponents of smoke-free air efforts still try to inject controversy into this issue, and spread doubt in the minds of legislators and the public. It is people like Judson Wells who bring science to bear and expose the facts.

It is sad that this influential scientist, who started a new and groundbreaking career as an epidemiologist in his retirement, driven by his interest in this important subject, has died. I am grateful to have known him.