Members of the California Medical Association voted to urge the state to increase its smoking age from 18 to 21 -- higher than any other state.

A resolution approved Sunday at the association's annual meeting in Anaheim directs the group's lobbyists to support any legislation that would raise the legal age for buying, possessing or receiving tobacco products, though no such legislation is pending.

The association, which represents 35,000 physicians, also wants to make it illegal to sell cigarettes to those younger than 21.

"I am very pleased that the CMA, in its wisdom, decided to support this policy," said Dr. Leonard Klay, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Santa Rosa. He introduced the measure at the association's annual meeting, which drew more than 400 delegates.

"This is great news for the health of all Californians," he said. "We know that people who start smoking at a young age, especially, become addicted to deadly nicotine. My hope is that a higher age would help prevent some of these horrible smoking deaths people suffer."

Forty-seven states have a minimum age of 18 to buy tobacco; Alabama, Alaska and Utah set the minimum age at 19. A 1992 directive from Congress had called for a minimum of at least 18.

The California medical group's House of Delegates also voted to support increased fines and enforcement efforts to prevent minors from being exposed to tobacco products.

The American Lung Association does not support raising the legal smoking age, instead saying efforts would be better spent enforcing current laws.

The Lung Association estimates about 90 percent of all smokers pick up the habit before the age of 21. More than 430,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases.