VICTORIA - British Columbia's health minister says he wants to see the province raise the legal smoking age to 21.

Terry Lake said he's an ardent anti-smoker and believes the longer people are legally prevented from buying tobacco products, the better the odds are that they won't pick up the habit.

The legal age in Canada to purchase tobacco products is set by each province and territory.

B.C. and five other provinces have an age limit of 19, while the rest of the provinces and territories have set the smoking limit at 18 years old.

"I've seen in my family, my mom die, my dad suffer with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," said Lake. "I've seen my siblings struggle with addiction to nicotine."

Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said Thursday he will back Lake's campaign as it progresses.

"As a reformed smoker, I want to discourage smoking wherever possible," he said. "I don't want to give policy pronouncements on the fly, but if we can reduce smoking in B.C., I encourage that."

Lake, who isn't running again in this May's election, said his idea of raising the smoking age does not represent an official change on behalf of B.C.'s government.

"This is a personal thing for me," he said. "I just wanted to start the conversation so future governments may consider that."

Lake said other jurisdictions have made the change and found it reduced smoking rates among students.

B.C.'s Health Ministry said Hawaii and California have boosted their legal smoking age limit to 21.

The ministry did not provide any U.S. data on smoking rates since the legal age was increased.

"Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease and death in British Columbia and one of our primary goals is to stop youth from starting to use tobacco products," said a ministry statement issued on Thursday. "We have made great progress in reducing tobacco prevalence in the province, and we continue to have the lowest smoking rate in Canada, at approximately 15.3 per cent."