TIFTON -- A group of people gathered at the First Baptist Church of Tifton on Wednesday for an informational meeting on the upcoming referendum on mixed-drink sales

The featured speaker was Emment Henderson, a retired Baptist minister, who served for 26 years as a specialist on ethics and public affairs with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

"The fact is that alcohol is a drug," said Henderson. "It is the drug of choice of young people."

Henderson said that alcohol is the only drug that causes violence even when consumed in only moderate levels. He said that there are two and a half times more arrests because of alcohol than all other drug arrests put together. He said that if alcohol were a newly discovered drug, like LSD, then it would most likely be made illegal altogether.

Tifton and Tift County citizens will decide Nov. 2 whether liquor-by-the-drink sales will be available in local restaurants.

Much of Henderson's speech dealt with alcoholism and the overall dangers of alcohol consumption.

"Alcoholism is a permanent disability," he said. "Once one is addicted to alcohol there is no going back."

"Cancer can be cured, alcoholism cannot," said the minister, who is also a cancer victim. He intimated that passing the liquor referendum would result in an increase in both social drinking and alcoholism. He said that when the number of social drinkers in a community increases, the number of alcoholics increase as well.

"People die from alcohol poisoning," Henderson said. "Many people don't know that alcohol can kill you. It is a poison."

He also said that drinking led to behavior such as infidelity, high risk sex, anger and impaired judgment.

"(Alcohol) puts to sleep those cells of the brain that deal with rational thinking," he said.

He also talked about the potential health problems of alcohol consumption. He said that it causes high blood pressure and other heart problems, cirrhosis, hepatitis and birth defects.

"The majority of drunk drivers obtain their alcohol at liquor by-the-drink outlets," said Henderson. "Once you've consumed it, you get in your car and drive away."

He said that when he lived in Gwinett County, the local government passed similar liquor-by-the-drink laws as Tift County is facing. He said that after passage, the county saw a 50 percent increase in drunk driving incidents and that his property taxes doubled.

"It is not a great economic benefit to legalize alcohol," he said.

Henderson said that alcohol cost Americans $185 billion in 1998. He said that nothing affects a community in more destructive ways than alcohol.

"It is not a profitable thing to do for the citizens of this county," he said.

He said that the proponents for the liquor referendum are right when they say that it will bring many jobs to Tift County. He said that it would bring more policemen, insurance adjusters, therapists and divorce lawyers to the county.

"This election is more than about money," he said. "It's about children."

"Don't be naive to suppose that this not going to affect teenagers," said Henderson. "They will get the message from the adults in this county, that it is okay to drink."

Harrell Willis of the Brian Willis Foundation also spoke. Willis' brother was killed in 1996 by a drunk driver and he talked about the grief and horror he experienced.

Jan Flynt also talked about the difficulties her family experienced because of alcohol. Flynt said that her former husband had been an alcoholic and that it tore their family apart and was still affecting it today.

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