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Ingenious antismoking billboard coughs at smokers

Commentary: In Sweden, a billboard looks normal. Until a smoker walks by, that is.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Social shaming?

Apotek Hjärtat/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It's tempting to think that smoking cigarettes is out of fashion.

Until you watch a Hollywood movie, that is.

Though it's true that consumption is declining in some western countries, it's on the increase in China, where 68 percent of men are smokers.

In Sweden, however, smoking is at a record low. This hasn't stopped campaigners trying to find creative ways to reduce smoking even further.

Swedish pharmacy chain Apotek Hjartat decided to shame smokers in public, using remarkably inventive means.

It created a billboard that, should smokers walk past it, coughs at them. More precisely, the handsome man depicted on the billboard coughs at them.

The technology is simple. The billboard is equipped with a smoke detector. If it detects smoke, the handsome man coughs.

It's unclear, though, whether he'd also cough if a smoky car drove by.

The whole idea is to help Swedes adopt a New Year's resolution to give up smoking and the reactions presented in the video are highly entertaining.

A spokeswoman for Åkestam Holst, Apotek Hjartat's ad agency, told me that the billboard had enjoyed mixed reaction, but "mostly positive."

"All smoking is a problem for people who smoke, if not now, later. Just recently Sweden introduced warning pictures on all cigarette packs. Why? Because smoking is not good for you. You can't get too many reminders about this," she added.

However, the billboard only addresses tobacco that's smoked. Sweden and several other Scandinavian countries endure considerable consumption of chewing tobacco.

Some might feel a touch nauseated by this attempt to shame people publicly. At what point does freedom become, well, sanctioned by big brothers and sisters?

Still, this idea might inspire other brands to create their own versions. How about a Tom Ford ad in which a woman coughs every time a man wearing too much nasty cologne walks by? Or a vegetarian lobby ad in which a dog growls every time someone with meat in their shopping bag wanders along?

Technology can always find new ways of telling us what to do and what not to do.

Who can wait for the billboard with a famous actress tut-tutting every time someone wearing Birkenstocks walks by? Wouldn't that be adorable?

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility. Check it out here.

Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech." Take a look here.