NEW YORK - Smokers younger than 21 in the nation's biggest city will soon be barred from buying cigarettes after the New York City Council voted overwhelming Wednesday to raise the tobacco-purchasing age to higher than all but a few other places in the United States.

City lawmakers approved the bill - which raises from 18 to 21 the purchasing age for cigarettes, certain tobacco products, and even electronic-vapor smokes - and another that sets minimum prices for tobacco cigarettes and steps up law enforcement on illegal tobacco sales.

"This will literally save many, many lives," said an emotional City Councilman James Gennaro, the bill's sponsor, whose mother and father died from tobacco-related illnesses. "I've lived with it, I've seen it . . . but I feel good today."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a strong supporter of the restrictions, has 30 days to sign the bills. The minimum-age bill will take effect 180 days after enactment.

"We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it's critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start," he said in a statement.

The current city age limit is 18, a federal minimum that is standard in many places.

Cigarette manufacturers have suggested young adult smokers may just turn to black-market merchants.