NEW GLASGOW – A culture of acceptance was the focus for the release of the report from the Municipal Alcohol Project in Pictou County on Wednesday.
Starting in November, an action committee with municipal leaders, addiction services staff and public health services staff held eight community conversations.
“We collected stories. We had very few questions and we let the conversation come from the participants,” Sophie Melanson with Pictou County Health Authority Addictions Services said.
The sessions included community leaders, politicians, First Nations leaders, school principals, college students, police officers, retired nurses, volunteers, and parents.
Statistics from the “Alcohol Indicators Report 2011” by the Department of Health and Wellness as well as the “Nova Scotia Student Drug Use Survey 2012” were brought up at each conversation.
The average age of youth when they have their first drink, 13.2 years old for boys and 13.6 for girls, was something participants found surprising, as well as the high rate of drinking among youth, which was found to be 52.7 per cent among students in grades 7, 9, 10 and 12 in Pictou, Cumberland, East Hants and Colchester counties.
“Ideally, we need to think that we have very much impact in impacting the culture of alcohol. If we don’t, who does?” Melanson said about how much control municipalities have over alcohol use.
With the exception of Pictou Landing First Nation, alcohol is generally seen as a part of many community events throughout the county, says the report “The Culture of Alcohol: A Pictou County Perspective.”
Some of the issues raised overall included not only the strong presence of alcohol with youth, but the attitudes of parents.
“A parent providing a safe place for underage youth to drink with their friends was a common theme throughout the project. However, this topic garnered hot debate in every instance,” it reads.
It also looks to the media and advertising as targeting women and young people. Using social media and celebrities to endorse alcohol and labelling products in terms of sexiness and slimness were used as examples.
There were some distinctions among the eight community groups represented.
“One thing that set this community apart from others was that, traditionally speaking, most community events, including the annual Pow Wow, bingo, and community dinners, do not involve alcohol,” the report said about Pictou Landing.
Westville councillor Lynn MacDonald noted that while raising a family in Westville, teen dances used to be a common thing.
“There were so many harms going on from those teen dances because young people would drink,” she said, adding that it resulted in negative outcomes.
The section focusing on Westville noted that youth need a place to go on a Friday night other than a party where parents are allowing underage drinking.
Although youth were a hot topic, they weren’t represented in the conversations.
Whether they will involve them in the future has yet to be decided.
MacDonald noted that drinking could be seen as an answer to despair, including sadness brought on by the loss of jobs.
MacDonald does believe that municipalities have a part to play, no matter the cause.
“I think we could be a part of helping people finding coping solutions by supporting the organizations that offer those services. I think that’s a very important role.”
The report suggests taking an approach similar to one used for tobacco reduction for a solution, targeting accessibility, pricing, and advertising.
Municipal leaders and partners from across Northern Nova Scotia are meeting in Truro on Feb. 25 and hope to discuss a plan of action.
On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda