National smoking rate on a slow decline

AUSTRALIANS are smoking less and living longer, an assessment of the national health care agreement has found.

The fourth COAG Reform Council found Australia's life expectancy was among the highest in the world, and low rates of low birth weight babies and infant mortality were world-leaders.

It found the national smoking rate fell from 22.3% in 2001 to 16.5% in 2011-12, but the rate may need to fall faster to meet the nationally-agreed target of 10% by 2018.

Council chairman John Brumby said overall the National Healthcare Agreement was working well.

"Smoking-related diseases and deaths put a huge strain on our health system, so the continued drop in daily smoking rates is welcome," he said.

The OECD has previously found Australia had "remarkable progress" in reducing tobacco consumption in the last two decades, but the council noted that the stark difference in smoking rates depending on geographic location or socio-economic status is of concern.

One in three people in the nation's most disadvantaged areas outside major cities still smoked, compared to one in five in similar areas in the major cities.

The report also warned all governments needed to do more to tackle obesity, with a staggering 63% of Australians either overweight or obese in 2011-12 - a two percentage point rise since 2007-08.

Mr Brumby said the obesity rate was concerning and needed "urgent attention" from federal and state governments.

Waiting times for elective surgery had largely not improved nationally in five years, but had remained shortest in Queensland.

The council reported concerns about access to healthcare with almost one in four people having to wait 24 hours or longer for an urgent appointment with a GP a 12% rise from the year before.

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