Debi Austin Dies, Anti-Tobacco Advocate’s 90s PSA Lives On

Debi Austin has died at the age of 62 after a two-decades long battle with cancer.

If you didn’t recognize Debi Austin’s name, you probably would recall the anti-tobacco advocate who finally managed to quit smoking after a jarring ad she made in the 1990s featured her smoking through a voicebox.

Austin filmed the public service announcement after her early 90s diagnosis of cancer, and an interaction wherein her toddler niece mimicked the surgical alteration and expressed a desire to be like her aunt.

On her website, Debi Austin describes the moment that ultimately led her to create the widely seen PSA from the 90s, saying that the diagnosis was life-changing. She explained:

“In 1992, at the age of 42, I was diagnosed with squamos cell carcinoma; I had cancer of the larynx. The surgery would remove my vocal cords. I was not prepared for this. I am sure that my doctor explained everything to me; I am also sure that after hearing the word cancer not much else got through.”

In response to Debi Austin’s death, the California Public Health Department released a statement commending her bravery and the strides she helped the state make in fighting addiction to tobacco. It read:

“We are saddened by Debi’s death. She exemplified the real toll tobacco takes on a person’s body. 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 continues:

“[Debi Austin] 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.”

In the iconic PSA, Austin mused before taking a drag of the cigarette:

“They say nicotine isn’t addictive … How can they say that?”

Below is Debi Austin’s “Voicebox” PSA.