EVERY 28 minutes there is a tobacco-related death in Australia.
Smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death and disease in the country.
And it represents an enormous social and economic burden on individuals and the health system.
Now a startling new report has revealed the Victorian regional centres of Ballarat, Horsham and Ararat have the highest smoking rates in Australia, with more than a quarter of adults lighting up daily.
Bendigo fares better with just 21 per cent of people in the Loddon-Mallee-Murray region smoking daily but this still places it in the top third in the country.
Coinciding with the release of this latest report author Jillian Abbot, who grew up in Kangaroo Flat, has published a new multi-media story that tells the tragic tale of a man trying to quit smoking after receiving dire health news.
It serves as a poignant and very timely reminder of why these statistics are cause for concern.
The story is inspired by her father, Bendigo man John Kenneth Abbott, who died in September 2000 after struggling to give up smoking when he was diagnosed with emphysema.
“I would be very happy to think Air Quality might focus some attention on smoking, or prove an inspiration to people wanting to quit,” explained Abbott, who now lives in New York.
“It can be devastating. My father lost his life to smoking.
“When I was smoking my kids were little and I got taken off to hospital in an ambulance suffering from pneumonia.
“It was very scary for my kids and seeing that made me give up, but it was an incredible struggle and I could never judge a parent, who is loving and nurturing, but who also smokes.
“Tobacco is very addictive. When I got out of the hospital after the pneumonia, I found myself following a man around the supermarket. He was smoking and the smoke was following him like a trail and I was following it.
“I had terrible cravings for years.
“I think we humans are self-destructive. Almost everyone does something that is bad for them,” she added.
Certainly, it seems her latest work, based on an award winning story she had written earlier under the same title, is striking a chord with a lot of people.
“I was totally taken by surprise by readers’ reactions to my book,” Abbot explained.
“When I put it out there, the response I got was almost always along the lines of, ‘My father died of lung cancer, it was so terrible’, or ‘this story reminded me so much of my father –in-law, I really understand him now.’
“The story has worked in a way I never expected, it has totally taken people to a place where they were thinking about loved ones and smoking and what that means. It was very touching for me.
“Through the character, people get to experience the terrible struggle this man has to give up, and also through him experience the consequences of not giving up.
“It’s very gratifying to think that my writing a story inspired by my dad’s struggle with smoking might help others give up. I think my dad would very much enjoy the idea that he helped ‘save’ people,” she added.
As well as helping to “save lives” Air Quality is also making waves within literary circles for the ‘new,’ ‘unique,’ and ‘inventive’ way it opens the imagination to the ‘vast new possibilities’ of the multimedia story.
Abbot, who works as an English lecturer specializing in digital writing at Long Island University, Post Campus and Queensborough Community College, CUNY, uses video, music, sound effects and spoken dialogue to bring the story to life.
“Air Quality represents a unique way of preserving tradition prose while embracing state of the art technology,” explained Abbott.
“I consider this to be a new genre. It’s not a book as such.
“Mine was among the first books of fiction created using iBookAuthor, but already there are more around and I expect many more in the future.
"None are exactly like mine, but that is what is so exciting about this new genre – it
allows for true individual expression.”
Adding another twist to the story, and to keep it "feeling local" Abbott has also recruited the help of former Trades Hall Secretary Noel Laidlaw to be the voice of the main protagonist.
Bizarrely the dulcet tones of his Bendigo accent have now been played to a New
York audience as part of US National Writers Union placing Bendigo on the literary map.
“It was so important to me that it remain Australian, and Bendigonian,” Abbott explained.
“Both my mother and father were born and bred in Bendigo, both lived there until they died.
“ Bendigo is part of who I am.
“Also the story is inspired by my dad, and I had to maintain a Bendigo connect because of that. I achieved this connection by using Noel and his friends’ voices.”
Meanwhile Laidlaw, who it is fair to say, is a man of many talents having been a mining engineer, former Trades Hall Secretary and now an actor, says he had never done anything like this before.
“I just did it to help out a friend,” he said.
“I have no illusions about any particular talents.
“Jill was very much involved in the political scene and we first met through the labour party in the 1970s and we have maintained a friendship all this time.
“She came over to see her mum and got to know myself and my partner and our friends; she told us she was putting together a book and then she emailed one day and asked us to be involved,” explained Laidlaw, who made the recording from his home in Carisbrooke.
“It was all done electronically, she sent the script over and we sent back the audio.
“I bought a microphone, had a couple of runs and when we thought it was as good as we could get it, we flicked it over to her. I thinking it sounded alright,” he added.
“I only had a few lines.
“My partner Kaye Threader was Jill's mum, and my friend Chris Shaw, who is originally from Yorkshire, had a part and then I was the dad.
“It is a very good book,” he added.
“It is a story of Bendigo, Jill’s family and her dad but I am sure there are a lot of people in America like Jill, like her dad, like me.
“It is an interesting story about family, illness, grief, loss, which are pretty universal themes; it fits whether you are here or in New York,” he added.
And according to Abbott the project was well received at the New York conference, Bendigo accents and all.
“They loved it,” said Abbott.
“When people hear that first match strike their eyes light up like children and hearing spoken dialogue from a book blows them away. The smoke video is so beautiful. It’s hard to blow one’s own trumpet, but they called me a pioneer.”
Air Quality is available in the iBookstore for $3.99, and anyone with a Mac who has downloaded Mavericks can also buy it and view it on their laptop or desktop.