Debi Austin Dies: Anti-Smoking Advocate Was 62

By: Amanda Crum - February 28, 2013

Debi Austin, who was a huge proponent for anti-smoking after being diagnosed with cancer of the larynx, died on Friday after a 20-year battle with the disease. She was 62 years old.

Austin began doing ads which showed the horrifying effects tobacco can have on a person’s body after having a laryngectomy; when her four-year old niece drew a black spot on her own neck to mimic the one left in Austin’s and said she wanted to be like her aunt, Austin realized she needed to do something proactive. The most popular ad became one which is still well-known in California–her home state–despite first being aired in the ’90s.

‚ÄúDebi 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,” said Dr. Ron Chapman of the California Department of Public Health.

Austin said she started smoking when she was just 13 and made several attempts to quit, but never quite succeeded, even after the cancer took her vocal chords. She learned to speak esophageal speech, which she called “burp talk”, and used it in the startling ad that made her a famous symbol in the fight against smoking. Her family released a statement on her passing, saying she was a fighter until the very end.

“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.”

About the Author

Amanda CrumAmanda Crum is a writer and artist from Kentucky. She's a fan of Edward Gorey, Hunter S. Thompson, and horror movies. You can follow her on Google:+Amanda Crum

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  • Dr. Killjoy

    Smoking in moderation has never killed anyone……..even water can kill you if you don’t know when to chillout. Compulsive puffing everyday shows how weak willed some folks are. Learn to control yourself. Inanimate objects can’t hurt you, only you are hurting you!

    • W Singler

      “too much of everything is just enough” Weir/Barlow

  • Gene

    I bet you, if she did not quit smoking, she would continue to live.

  • gwalhaved

    Smoking has led to the untimely deaths of five people in my family, Dr. Killjoy, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

    RIP Debi!

  • Barbara Sayres

    Years ago, I heard someone say at a “stop smoking group” – My grandfather smoked and he lived to be 90. The moderator said. Yes. Look out the window. There was a busy highway. He said if I blindfolded all of you and asked you to cross that highway, some of you will make to the other side and not get run over and some will not. The problem is we don’t know will and who won’t. So that is really the point, isn’t it?

  • zucccchini

    Most of us baby-boomers were smokers at one time or another since our parents were WWII participants and it was just popular to do. I enjoyed smoking. My whole family smoked at one time or another. None suffered death from smoking. But I quit because of my spouse’s heart issues….although HE continued to smoke! Go figure. He also is still living. But the fact remains it costs less for society (SS) to foot the bill of a smoker over time then foot the bill for a healthy senior who lives much longer.

    • Mike Ladd

      That last statement is total bull. I wonder where THAT statistic came from? Denial? The Smoker’s Rationale Committee?? It would be hilarious if not so sadly mistaken.

  • P. Harris

    RIP Debi. I know for a fact that it’s hard to stop smoking. I did it; and like a dummy started back for 6 weeks after 8 years. It’s not the same anymore. To me now cigarettes taste, smell and are just plain nasty! The taste of a cigarette have changed. I know it’s bad for you; yet it really felt good to light up after a meal, or while you’re socializing. Please everyone if you haven’t started DON’T! I now have sympathy for addicts of any kind. Just quit, just don’t do it. It’s hard, but worth it. You smell better, look better, FEEL better when you don’t smoke. I don’t like the control it has over me. I am going to stick to it this time. It’s not worth it. I have a wonderful Husband & Family and want to be around for a long time. That’s why I quit!