TRURO - Karen Kittilsen and Janet MacPhee were surprised to learn that youth start drinking alcohol at an average age of 12.7 years.
"It's mind blowing," said MacPhee, the hepatitis C co-ordinator with the Northern AIDS Connection Society who attended a public forum yesterday morning with the society's executive director, Kittilsen.
"I shouldn't be surprised (by the age), but I am."
That data was given to a group of almost 50 people from local organizations, businesses and even concerned citizens during the forum regarding the Municipal Alcohol Project that started after three other communities in Nova Scotia compiled similar reports last year.
‘Shine a light: what alcohol use in Truro looks like' will be available through both the Town of Truro and the Colchester East Hants Health Authority's websites.
"I was really surprised by the age levels of youth starting to engage in drinking. I think it's the way drinking has been normalized in society through advertising and sponsorship. I think that's a big challenge," said Kittilsen.
When youth engage in alcohol consumption, Kittilsen said judgment can then lead youth in other directions.
"They will sometimes engage in high-risk situations, such as sexually, without using any protection," she said.
"There are a lot of unsafe decisions made when alcohol is used."
One of the things the report was missing, however, was statistics specific to Truro.
"One of the challenges is that local police don't input any data as to alcohol-related crimes," said James Shedden, prevention and health promotion specialist with Mental Health and Addiction Services through the health authority, adding those working in the emergency room don't include that information either.
"That is something we can work on."
During the forum, those gathered broke into groups to discuss how the information in the project can be used to change the culture of alcohol in Truro, as well as some practical next steps the community can take.
Many of the answers were similar, with many group representatives talking about getting the message across.
"The message isn't ‘don't drink,'" said Keltie Jones, the assistant dean of students at Dalhousie University's Faculty of Agriculture in Bible Hill.
"We need to get the message out there with the second-hand effects on it."
She said a campaign is underway for the students at the agriculture campus that ‘it's not sexy.'
"Vomiting is not sexy. Passing out is not sexy. Parents need to be hearing it as well that it's wrong to host parties for their children in their homes. It's against the law to be serving alcohol to those underage."
Looking at Wolfville's project that has created a community action team, Jones said it's something she would like to see established in Truro with stakeholders from the community, as well as citizens, bar owners and even landlords.
Truro Mayor Bill Mills was responsible for bringing the project to Truro. He said the forum was a good first start.
"A lot of young people think drinking is normal but it's not. They think that because of a picture they've seen - either from a movie or an ad," he said.
"We need to educate them and let them know that it's not and that the long-term effects outweigh the positive effects."
Shedden said the project is his work plan and he's looking forward to the next steps.
"I'm going to advocate for a healthy communities committee regarding alcohol, such as we have for nutrition, obesity and natural breastfeeding," he said.