I remembered the commercial instantly:

Debi Austin appeared in the ad in 1996. In a raspy voice, she described starting smoking at age 13. Then declaring, “They say nicotine isn’t addictive,” she took a drag from her cigarette through a stoma, a hole in her throat which permitted her to breathe. “How can they say that?” she concluded.

For years, she worked to keep kids from smoking. She died last week after fighting various cancers for more than 20 years.

From a release from the California Department of Public Health:

“We are saddened by Debi’s death. She exemplified the real toll tobacco takes on a person’s body,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Ron Chapman. “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. 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.”

Tobacco Free California says this about Austin on its website (where you can also watch a video about her):

Debi Austin started smoking at the age of 13. She continued to smoke through a stoma in her throat even after being diagnosed with cancer and having her larynx removed at the age of 42. But, Debi fought back. She starred in an iconic television ad for the California Tobacco Control Program, quit smoking and has made anti-tobacco education not only her mission in life, but her passion.

Video: Anti-Tobacco Advocate Debi Austin, Appeared in ‘Voicebox’ Commercial, Dies at 62 27 February,2013Lisa Aliferis


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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