While the name of Debi Austin might not ring a bell, her face is forever-etched in the minds of many. Austin was the star of an anti-smoking advertisement that aired throughout the state of California in the mid-1990s, which showed her smoking through a hole in her throat. According to the LA Times, she passed away Friday, following a 20-year battle with cancer, at age 62.
The hole in Austin’s throat was from a laryngetomy she had done to remove a cancerous tumor from her vocal chords. The ad, titled “Voicebox” came about after her 4-year-old niece drew a black dot on her throat, mimicking Austin, saying “I want to be like you.”
In the ad, Austin admits to having her first cigarette at age 13. She says she tried to quit when she found out how dangerous they were, but couldn’t. She then questions how the tobacco industry could say nicotine isn’t an addictive substance, while taking a drag off her cigarette via the hole in her throat.
In a statement, the California Department of Public Health calls the ad “the most-recognized and talked about California tobacco control ad.” “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 Dr Ron Chapman, a member of the agency.
Austin stopped smoking about eight months after the “Voicebox” ad first aired. She went on to make two more anti-smoking advertisements that began airing in 2011.