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Anti-Smoking Icon Dies of Cancer

Debi Austin, star of memorable "Voicebox" ad, has passed away at 62.


Debi Austin smoked her first cigarette at 13.
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By Valerie Tejeda


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Debi Austin, the woman who inhales a cigarette through a hole in her throat in the famous 90s anti-smoking ad "Voicebox," has passed away at 62 after a two-decade battle with cancer. In the ad, she says she smoked her first cigarette at 13 years old. “When I found out how bad it was, I tried to quit,” she says. “But I couldn’t. They say nicotine isn’t addictive. How can they say that?” Austin, who had her larynx removed, was known as California's most well-known anti-smoking advocate. She appeared in many ads warning against the dangers of smoking, and encouraging people not to start. “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,” says California public health director Dr. Ron Chapman. “She was an inspiration for Californians to quit smoking and also influenced countless others not to start.” Graphic, heartfelt ads like "Voicebox" are particularly effective in stopping and preventing smoking, especially for young people, says Andrew Strasser, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “Even on just a simple level, it opens the dialog because you see how this can turn out for someone who chooses to smoke,” he says. “For youth, it might be a good method of prevention, so you don’t end up this way, and for current smokers, it’s a good reminder that it’s better to quit and not end up here.”

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