Remembering the life of Debi Austin, as we embark on CDC’s Tips 2 Campaign

Gustavo Torrez
Program Manager
The Network for LGBT Health Equity

Last month we lost a true pioneer in the tobacco control movement.

debbie austin copyA woman who bravely shared her story of addiction with Californians, and then the whole country. To some she was the lady smoking out of the hole in her throat, too addicted to quit, but to me she was so much more: an inspiration, a pioneer, but most of all she was Debi. She was radiant, poised, and such an amazing advocate. I had the privilege of meeting Debi multiple times, and having great discussions with her  about the movement. She spoke at conferences and was living proof that if you put your mind to it you can break the nicotine addiction.

“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. We trust she will continue to touch those that hear her story, particularly teens and young adults. She will be greatly missed.” – Dr. Ron Chapman, CA Department of Public Health Director & State Public Health Officer

Four months after the release of her famous Voicebox commercial in 1996 Debi finally was able to kick her addiction, but she continued to battle with various forms of cancer until it finally took her life on February 22, 2013. She leaves us not only with her legacy of speaking up about her addiction and the lies told by the tobacco industry, but also the impact of her ads on millions of people across the country. Debi was a fighter, and she made sure everyone knew the outcomes of smoking and how it had taken part of her life away. Her ad, is considered California’s most provocative anti-smoking ad to date, and it also ran in Salt Lake City, Utah, New York City, Idaho, Washington, Massachusetts and Hawaii. By telling her story I firmly believe that she motivated thousands to quit, and changed the face of  health promotion strategies in public health.

This week, CDC launched its second phase of the Tips series with the popular ads from last years  “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign? The campaign highlights the stories of real people who are suffering the results of smoking related health effects, such as throat cancer, stroke and asthma just like Debi. As you know the campaign is focused around “tips” from them (not actors, real people suffering from the effects of their nicotine addiction), such as “When you have a hole in your neck, don’t face the shower head”. The “tips” are poignant and emphasize the simple and powerful message that smoking has consequences.

So as we remember Debi and her legacy, we all look forward to the new Tips 2 ads, and the powerful role that they will have in saving millions of lives.


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