This interview with Dr. Tamu Green is part of the TEDxFolsom Reimagine Series, showcasing global changemakers, innovators, and thought-leaders who will speak at the upcoming TEDxFolsom event.
Share with us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to apply to speak at TEDxFolsom?
I’m the CEO of the Equity and Wellness Institute, a firm that helps institutions do right by the communities they serve. My personal background is that I come from a multiracial family with a history of fighting for civil rights and my academic background is that I’m a developmental psychologist with training in sociology and adolescent development. Much of my career has been spent creating environments in which young people can thrive and be successful, especially when it comes to the risks and harms associated with substance abuse. We have all been there and know that adolescence and young adulthood is filled with landmines that can sabotage us. Many of them really can’t be avoided, as they’re just a part of growing up. Still, others have been placed intentionally to prey on and profit from the vulnerabilities of young people. I was inspired to apply to TEDxFolsom because I saw it as providing a platform to share an idea that could prevent a billion deaths worldwide by sidestepping an addiction that is one of these intentionally placed landmines.
Without giving away too much – Can you provide a short summary of what your topic for Reimagine is about?
We expect that consumer products that needlessly cause injury and death are never placed on the market, but what do we do if a product began its sales before its harm was known and then addicted its consumers? Can it still be recalled without rioting in the streets? Can we reimagine a future that is safer for our children, one that scales back their consumer choices in order to avoid a life of addiction? There are lessons to be learned from products and substances that have been phased out over time, with dramatic implications for what is still our number one preventable cause of death, cigarette smoking. I will make the case that while maintaining sales intact for current smokers, the lives of the NEXT generations can be protected with a simple policy that phases out the commercial sale of cigarettes to them — acting on the science that we have had for at least six decades that there is no safe use of this product which, when used as directed, hastens injury and death.
What was your inspiration or reflection point to generate this idea worth spreading?
Twenty years ago, I was a young fellow in a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called Developing Leadership in Reducing Substance Abuse. My class of 10 fellows from around the country, all eager to improve policies and practices around prevention and treatment, had the pleasure of spending a crisp fall day with C. Everett Koop, the 13th Surgeon General of the United States on the Dartmouth campus and we struck up a conversation about the predatory practices of the tobacco industry at the time. That conversation illuminated the fact that, while there was ample evidence about the harms of smoking, the hands of the government were essentially tied when it came to removing cigarettes from store shelves because millions of people were already painfully addicted to nicotine. I had no idea at the time that the conversation would put me on a path that would take on one of our world’s most powerful and profitable industries.
What are you looking forward to most with your talk?
Having a platform to spread the idea because when people hear it, they say, “Of course we should do that!” But they need to first get exposed to the idea, and that’s what will happen both on the day of the event and for years to come when the talk circulates online. I want to cause so much buzz that jurisdictions around the world, from cities and towns to counties and states, to provinces and countries, are compelled to seriously look at it and consider how to begin implementing it – perhaps taking their guidance from Brookline, MA, or New Zealand, who have been brave early adopters.
How do you foresee your TEDxFolsom talk impacting viewers both locally and globally?
My hope is that they will heed the call for action, which invites any and all who hear the talk to feel empowered to be a part of the solution to prioritize the health and longevity of future generations over corporate profits by sharing the idea with at least five other people and making sure that their public health officials and elected leaders know this idea is an option in their jurisdiction. I want those who hear the talk to see this idea as a gift that should have been given to them but that at least now they can give to the youth coming up behind them.
If there is one nugget of information you want someone to walk away with that views your TEDx Talk, what would that be?
It was a tragic mistake to ever allow cigarettes onto the market. The World Health Organization projects one billion deaths globally caused by cigarettes this century under existing policies. Can we even wrap our heads around that number? That is literally three times the number of every single human in the United States today. Fortunately, this projection only holds true if we continue business as usual. But we are a highly intelligent species, and we have the capacity for change! We must reimagine ourselves as a global community that learns from our mistakes – and our successes – in order to protect future generations.
What’s the best way for people to reach out to you to learn more about your TEDx talk topic?
I would invite them to send me a note: email@example.com. I would be delighted to provide them with resources to better their understanding of the idea and how to effectively advocate for it.