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WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's energy market regulator has approved a new anti-smog tariff to encourage households to switch to electric heating from coal or oil-fuelled heaters as part of a wider attempt to improve air quality.

Poland suffers bad smog every year during the winter season, as many citizens, especially in the mountainous south, burn low-quality coal or rubbish in outdated heaters to keep warm, which adds to exhaust-driven smog.

"The anti-smog tariff will contribute to the improvement of air quality in Poland in the winter season," the energy ministry said in a statement.

The new tariff is available in small towns and on the periphery of cities at night, when the demand for electricity falls, which is unfavourable for big coal-fuelled power stations that have to keep operating anyway.

The energy ministry argues that as a result of the new tariff, electric heating would become cheaper than oil heating and competitive with coal, provided that the user buys a new electric heater.

It has calculated that the annual cost for a household using 10 megawatt hours (MWh) of power during the night and 2.5 MWh in the daytime is 3,600 zlotys (£763), which is lower than in the two most popular tariffs.

The ministry presented details of the tariff on Friday in response to the criticism of some experts who said the new scheme would result in higher electricity prices for households.

The conservative government says it is the first in Poland to tackle the air quality problem, but anti-smog campaigners say that its actions are not enough.

Activist group Polski Alarm Smogowy said the energy ministry had failed to tighten regulations defining the acceptable content of sulphur in coal, which environmentalists had hoped would help remove the worst-quality coal from the market.

"We hope that the fight for clean air announced by the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, will not be an empty declaration," said Andrzej Gula from Polski Alarm Smogowy.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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