Smog kills more than 8 000 Italians each year.

This was the conclusion of research conducted by Italy's environmental protection agency APAT in conjunction with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The study, carried out in 13 major Italian cities between 2002-2004, found that the long-term effects of fine particle (PM10) pollution causes lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Larger PM10 smog particles (more than 10 micrometres in diameter) usually get caught in the nose and throat but finer smog particles are breathed in and are deposited inside the lungs and bronchial tubes. Fine particle smog also exacerbates allergies, particularly in children.

PM10 pollution is produced in part by the burning of fossil fuels, the report presented to the Italian government this week stated.

"We're declaring a smog emergency in Italian cities. The use of cars must be drastically reduced," environment minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio commented. The government has prepared a 100 million package to tackle the smog emergency including incentives for car sharing, bicycle use and methane engines for public transport.

Air pollution also has a diverse effect on the economy. According to WHO special health and environment programme director Roberto Bertollini some 7 million working days are lost every year due to smog-related health problems.

Smog also causes damage to the ancient buildings present in Rome and other Italian cities.

Italy has one of the highest pro capita levels of car ownership in the world and very few of its major cities have been able to meet the EU safety limit of 50 micrograms of PM10 pollution particles per cubic metre of air.