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Debi Austin, featured in anti-smoking 'Voicebox' ad, dies

Debi Austin, who had her vocal chords removed due to cancer of the larynx and became a symbol in California's anti-tobacco advertising campaigns, has died. This photo was taken in December 2010. Credit: Katie Falkenberg/ Los Angeles Times

Deborah "Debi" Austin, a Californian who became a symbol of the anti-smoking movement for her powerful role in advocacy and education, died last week. She was 62.

Austin, of Canoga Park, is perhaps best known for her role in a public-awareness television ad in the mid-1990s and later spots she filmed after being diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and receiving a laryngectomy.

"They say nicotine isn't addictive," Austin says in one ad, taking a drag of her smoke. "How can they say that?"

Her raspy voice, poised demeanor in the face of adversity, and dark hole in her throat are unforgettable.

In recent years, Austin continued filming advertisements for anti-smoking groups and died Friday after a two-decade bout with cancer, according to a statement from her family.

"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," according to the statement from the family provided by Allison+Partners.

"She was passionate and outspoken about what she believed in and deeply touched all who knew her or heard her story."

Austin started smoking when she was a teenager and remained a two- to three-pack-a-day smoker until she finally quit.

In a statement on the state Department of Public Health's website, officials called Austin California's "most well-known anti-tobacco advocate" and that the advertisement "Voicebox" is "the most-recognized and talked about California tobacco control ad."

“We are saddened by Debi’s death. She exemplified the real toll tobacco takes on a person’s body,” Dr. Ron Chapman of the agency said in the statement.

“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," Chapman said.

The agency also posted a video about Austin.

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-- Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: Debi Austin, who had her vocal chords removed due to cancer of the larynx and became a symbol in California's anti-tobacco advertising campaigns, has died. This photo was taken in December 2010. Credit: Katie Falkenberg/ Los Angeles Times

 
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