Debi Austin, who starred in the famous anti-smoking commercial during the 1990s, died of cancer on Friday.
- U.S. Health and Human Services
California's anti-tobacco ad made waves when it first aired in 1996. It featured Austin, who smoked a cigarette through a hole in her throat, in order to demonstrate tobacco's dangers.
Health officials as well as Austin's family said that she died at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles on Friday at the age of 62, reported The Los Angeles Times.
Austin had smoked her first cigarette at the age of 13, and was first diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21. Her intense addiction to nicotine led to the loss of her larynx at the age of 42. Subsequent of that cancer treatment, Austin required a "voicebox" as well as a surgical hole in her throat, through which she swallowed and smoked.
Despite her condition, Austin was unable to kick her addiction to nicotine, but she struck back at cigarette companies. After appearing in the memorable public-awareness campaign, Austin became a powerful advocate against smoking.
After a 20-year battle against cancer, health officials and members of Austin's family are mourning her as "the most-recognized and talked about California tobacco control ad," the State Department of Health officials said in a statement, according to The Times.
"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," Dr. Ron Chapman at the agency said in a statement.
While parents are sounding off about their appreciation for Austin's message to young people on social media sites, the Austin family is mourning their loss.
"True to Debi's spirit, she was a fighter to the end and leaves a big hole in our hearts and lives," Austin's family said in a statement, reported ABC News.
"Debi will be remembered fondly by those who love her to be caring, courageous, very funny and always there to offer or lend a hand," the family added. "She was passionate and outspoken about what she believed in and deeply touched all who knew her or heard her story."
Ahead of her death last week, Austin had spent the past few years traveling state to state and speaking her anti-smoking ads. She appeared in two more anti-smoking ads that were first released in 2011. The commercials left a lasting impression, one that Austin said she hopes will make young people think before smoking.