Leave car at home today: smog danger

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Millions of British motorists have been urged by the Government not to use their cars this weekend.

The Department of the Environment said yesterday for the first time that owners of cars not fitted with catalytic converters - nearly all those which are more than three years old - should not drive at all. Even owners of new cars fitted with the converters, roughly 6m out of a total of 25m, are urged not use their cars for journeys of less than a mile and a half, effectively ruling out weekend shopping trips.

Government pollution forecasters said ozone smog would cover much of Britain this weekend, due to a combination of still air, intense sunshine and pollution from traffic, power stations and industry.

The warning passed almost unnoticed yesterday as environment minister James Clappison announced 13 new air quality monitoring sites, which will join the Department of Environment's national air quality monitoring network by the end of July.

The DoE said most people would experience no ill effects. It issued advice for those suffering from heart or lung disease (including asthma) "who should be aware that their symptoms may worsen. Those who are affected may need to consider modifying their treatment, consulting their doctors as necessary."

Rebecca Rees, a spokeswoman for the AA, said it was pointless asking people not to use their cars at weekends. "We are aware of the smog problem and we want to do our part to deal with it, but if the Government is going to tell people to leave their cars at home it has to offer a decent alternative - otherwise they won't.

"We are all for more cycling and so on but there is no point in asking people to do something that is impossible. It is incredibly unfair: we represent 8m motorists and for many of them there simply is no alternative."

The Liberal Democrats yesterday announced their plans for reducing emissions and pollution, unveiling plans for a new tax on coal, oil and gas to cut Value Added Tax across the board or to reduce employers' national insurance contributions.

Party strategists believe that their latest version of a "carbon tax" on fossil fuels could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, while curbing emissions of greenhouse gases which have begun to alter the climate.

The effect of these changes in New Zealand, with a widening of the hole in the ozone layer, has been somewhat unusual: a large number of pets have been given tattoos.

Vets, alarmed at the rising incidence of skin cancer in animals noticed that dark-skinned pets were less likely to suffer. Solution: to give added protection to pale-skinned cats and dogs via the tattooist's needle. Thousands of animal-lovers have been attempting to protect their pets from ultra- violet rays, by tattooing them black.

In the treatment, a dark pigment is applied to cats' and dogs' ears and noses. Other pale-skinned animals such as cattle and sheep, are also prone to cancer but they do not get preventive tattooing. "If they get tumours, we just shoot them," a vet said. "They have lower companionship value."