Aug 4--I smoked for 35 years, and enjoyed most every puff. I knew it was bad for me. I knew I might have to pay a price. Two years ago, I found out what that price would be. A chest X-ray taken as part of an annual physical contained a slight anomaly. Subsequent CAT scans showed the anomaly to be a quarter-inch spot on the upper right lobe of my lungs. That lobe, with its offending spot, departed my body the Friday after Thanksgiving 2000, courtesy of an excellent surgeon who has my deepest gratitude.

I have not smoked a cigarette since the surgery. But if that spot had not appeared, I would be smoking--and enjoying it--still. And if it's another ailment that comes along to claim me in the years ahead (and I have advance warning), I might decide to go out with one last cigarette -- accompanied, preferably, by a good stiff ration of my favorite bourbon and the pleasure of seeing the Boston Red Sox win a World Series.

This personal health report is not a plea for sympathy. Nor is it intended to encourage or discourage anyone who is contemplating sharing a life with nicotine. That's a choice each of us makes on our own. I made my choice. Now, I live with the consequences.

Caesar Barber also made a choice. Actually, he made many choices over the last 40-odd years. He chose to eat at fast-food restaurants, starting in the 1950s, because it was cheap and convenient. (Whether he chose to super-size his meals, I don't know.)

Now, the 56-year-old New Yorker packs 272 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame. He has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and has suffered two heart attacks. He wants someone to pay for his choices. Specifically, he wants McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and KFC to pay. He's suing the fast-food giants who "wrecked" his life by making him obese and causing his health problems.

Well, sorry about his luck, but I cannot render any sympathy unto Caesar.

Just as no one held a gun to my head and forced me to smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette, Ronald McDonald didn't hold a gun to Barber's head and force-feed him Big Macs and fries. We set a horrible precedent in this country when we decided to hold tobacco companies liable for our own individual choices. Now, Barber wants to compound that mistake by holding fast-food chains accountable for his own inability to control his appetite.

What's next? Suing cereal companies because their sugar-laden products lead to hyperactivity in children? Telling candy and soft drink companies they're responsible for all tooth decay?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for holding the corporate world accountable for poisoning our streams or polluting our air or knowingly selling us defective products (not to be confused with products we know to be harmful to us but purchase and use anyway). But I refuse to join today's generation of litigation-addicted Americans who look for someone else (with deep pockets) to blame whenever their own personal decisions lead to the inevitable consequences.

I made a decision 37 years ago. So did Barber. Now, both of us should have the character and integrity to look in the mirror and face the individuals who are really responsible for those personal choices.

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