Debi Austin, the anti-tobacco advocate best known for her role in the iconic Voicebox anti-smoking commercial died on February 22, reports the Los Angeles Times. Austin, who spent much of her life teaching about the dangers of tobacco, battled cancer for 20 years. Here’s what you need to know.
Debi Austin is best known for her shocking anti-smoking ad that featured herself smoking through a hole in her throat. The ad, made in 1996 and considered California’s most provocative anti-smoking ad, also ran in Salt Lake City, Utah, New York City, Idaho, Washington, Massachusetts and Hawaii.
“I had my first cigarette when I was 13,” Austin tells the camera in the ad. “When I found out how bad it was, I tried to quit. But I couldn’t. They say nicotine isn’t addictive,” Austin then picks up a cigarette and smokes it through the hole in her throat and continues, “How can they they say that?”
Four months after the ad, Austin finally quit smoking, ending a two-to-thee-pack-a-day habit. She also stared in other anti-smoking ads and spent the rest of her life advocating for the cause.
2. Her Larynx Was Removed When She Was 42
Austin was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and had a laryngectomy, which removed the tumor and her vocal cords. The hole in her throat is called a stoma and it allowed her to breathe after her larynx was removed at the age of 42.
3. She Died at 62 After a 20-Year Battle With Cancer
Austin spent the rest of her life battling various forms of cancer. She died Friday, February 22 at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys after a 20-year battle.
4. Her Family Described Her as Courageous, Funny and Outspoken in a Statement
“True to Debi’s spirit, she was a fighter to the end and leaves a big hole in our hearts and lives,” Austin’s family said in a statement. “Debi will be remembered fondly by who those who love her to be caring, courageous, very funny and always there to offer advice or lend a hand. She was passionate and outspoken about what she believed in and deeply touched all who knew her or heard her story.”
5. The California Department of Public Health Also Issued a Statement
The California Department of Public Health wrote on its website that Debi Austin’s Voicebox commercial is one of the most recognized and talked about California tobacco control ad.
“Debi was a pioneer in the fight against tobacco and showed tremendous courage by sharing her story to educate Californians on the dangers of smoking,” California Department of Public Health Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Ron Chapman said. “She was an inspiration for Californians to quit smoking and also influenced countless others not to start. We trust she will continue to touch those that hear her story, particularly teens and young adults. She will be greatly missed,” Chapman said.