Deborah "Debi" Austin, famous for her anti-smoking ads that shocked audiences in the mid-1990's, has died of cancer of the larynx. She was 62 and lived for two decades with cancer.
In her famous "Voicebox" ad, Austin smokes a cigarette through the hole in her neck that was left from a laryngectomy. In a raspy voice, she addresses the camera, "They say nicotine isn't addictive [pause as she takes a puff of the cigarette] how can they say that?" (Video below)
A smoker since she was 13, Austin had her larynx removed after she was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the diagnosis, Austin said her heavy addiction prevented her from quitting until much later in life.
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After the famous commercial aired, Austin went on to film several other advertisements for anti-smoking groups, making her a recognizable icon for anti-smoking advocacy.
Austin's family said she smoked between two and three packs of cigarettes a day for most of her life but managed to quit before her death, the Los Angeles Times
"True to Debi's spirit, she was a fighter to the end and leaves a big hole in our hearts and lives. 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," a statement from the family said. "She was passionate and outspoken about what she believed in and deeply touched all who knew her or heard her story."
According to California's Department of Public Health website, Austin, a native of the state, was the "most well-known anti-tobacco advocate" whose "Voicebox" commercial is "the most-recognized and talked about California tobacco control ad."
"She exemplified the real toll tobacco takes on a person’s body," Ron Chapman, of the agency, said. "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."
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