A move to raise the legal age at which tobacco can be purchased to 21 across the U.S. appears to be gaining momentum. A new national survey from the Centers for Disease Control finds that more than three quarters of adults -- including seven out of ten smokers - support the change.

Preventing premature deaths

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. Some 90 percent of all adult tobacco users start by the age of 19. The Institute of Medicine says that prohibiting young Americans from buying tobacco until they turn 21 could prevent 223,000 premature deaths among those born between 2000 and 2019.

Smoking is legal at 18 in most U.S. states, although a few have set the limit at 19. Some individual cities, like New York, have raised the smoking age to 21. Hawaii last month became the first state to do so. The Hawaii law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2016, will also ban the sale, purchase or use of electronic cigarettes for those under the age of 21.

Washington state and California are also considering raising the legal smoking age to 21.

But they can join the Army...

Opponents of the change said 18-year-olds are considered adults in other respects, and are allowed to join the military.

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown urged state officials to pay attention to the survey results: “Any action we can take to stop the young from taking that first deadly puff should be ardently pursued. That’s why we urge all other states to follow Hawaii’s lead and make 21 the nationwide age limit for purchasing any tobacco product.”