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Debi Austin

Debi Austin, M.A. Tobacco Educator/Motivational Speaker (1950-2013) Debi Austin has been a tobacco educator since 1996, the year she appeared in her first anit-tobacco advertisement. She particularly enjoys talking to young people; her passion is “to help them move closer to their visions and dreams through positive choices.” Debi, as a child of two smokers. Started smoking herself at age 13. By the time she was in college, she smoked three packs a day. Debi was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx at age 42. She underwent successful surgery to remove the tumor, but unfortunately her vocal cords were removed as well. Debi had to learn to speak again, using a technique known as esophageal speech, or “burp talking.” In spite of this traumatic experience, Debi continued to smoke during her recovery. Four years after her surgery, while participating in a Laryngectomies’ support group, Debi was approached by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to film an anti-tobacco ad. Debi initially declined, but was eventually motivated to accept because of her desire that her 4-year old niece not follow in her footsteps. That ad she appeared in, “Voicebox,” was to become one of the most iconic anti-tobacco ads ever made, and propelled Debi to a life devoted to tobacco education. Four months after filming the ad and before it aired publicly, Debi quit smoking for good. Since making “Voicebox,” Debi has dedicated herself to speaking out about the negative effects of tobacco. She has spoken at schools, universities, prisons, city council meetings, etc. Debi has also participated in many interviews and appearances for print, television, and radio in the United States and abroad. Since the state-sponsored advertisement aired, her health has deteriorated. From breast cancer surgery and the removal of intestines to her current battle with stomach cancer and emphysema, Austin has struggled. But she’s using that pain to share her story, and has traveled the world to do it. In fall 2010, Debi finally filmed two anti-tobacco ads for CDPH, which aired in January 2011. OnFriday, February 22, 2013, Debi passed away leaving behind an incredible legacy and thousands of admirers from throughout the United States and beyond. Her powerful as reached hundreds of thousands of teens and adults.

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