Debi Austin, Star of Infamous Anti-Smoking Ad, Is Dead at 62

1996 spot was one of a kind

Debi Austin, better known as the lady who smoked a cigarette through a tracheotomy hole in her neck in the infamous "Voicebox" anti-smoking ad, died Feb. 22 after a 20-year battle with cancer. She was 62. The California Department of Public Health released a statement about Debi on its website in which CDPH director Dr. Ron Chapman applauded her for showing "tremendous courage by sharing her story to educate Californians on the dangers of smoking." He's absolutely right about that. The "Voicebox" ad, from 1996, is a good example of how advertising can use real people's stories for the greater good, and without exploiting them. More to the point, Debi was brave for putting what many would call a weakness or personal failing to work as a public service, and for doing so with dignity and poise. She would also become a powerful anti-smoking advocate, and made two ads more recently—see those after the jump. May she rest in peace.