The European Union could save up to 161 billion euros a year by reducing deaths caused by air pollution, the World Health Organization has said.
Cars are a major contributor to air pollution
Air pollution reduces the life of the average European by 8.6 months.
The toxic particles in pollution increase deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and the price of treating these ailments is costly.
However, EU plans to cut pollution by 2010 should on average save 2.3 months of life for each European, WHO says.
This is the equivalent of preventing 80,000 premature deaths and saving over one million years of life across the European Union.
"Measures to reduce the effects of air pollution on health and extend life expectancy already exist and work," said Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
"The data presented today emphasise that health damage due to particulate matter (PM) exposure, its costs for European society, and the ability of the current European legislation to reduce this impact, are critical arguments for continuing efforts to reduce air pollution."
Transport and the use of fossil fuels in homes are the major contributors to air pollution. Diesel is a particular culprit, providing a hefty chunk of all polluting particles.
Although each country is responsible for much of its own pollution, winds and weather systems mean they also get an unhealthy dose from other countries.
"The transboundary nature of PM pollution requires that all countries take measures that will benefit the European population," said Roberto Bertollini, Director of the Special Programme on Health and Environment, WHO.
WHO says plans to manage air quality at the local, regional and national levels need to be integrated. Cutting traffic at the local level may help reduce the exposure of people living in pollution hotspots, but will not help the society as a whole.
It suggests that people across Europe rely less heavily on motorised transport and instead take trains, cycle or walk. People's attitudes need to change, WHO says, and we all need to nurture a commitment to clean air.
WHO and the European Commission are working together in a new long-term strategy known as Clean Air for Europe (CAFE).