Thousands back anti-smoking plea
A 35,000 signature petition calling for an end to smoking at work has been presented to the health minister.
Doctors, nurses, health professionals, the voluntary sector, charities and other organisations delivered the petition on the steps of Stormont.
A campaign had six weeks to raise awareness of the minister's public consultation on a smoking ban.
Arlene Spiers of the Ulster Cancer Foundation said the minister must take on board the wishes of the people.
She added: "Smokers, non-smokers, employees, employers, unions and customers all agree that workers should not be exposed to cancer-causing substances in the line of duty.
"The minister must heed this huge public response in support of smokefree workplaces and must act quickly to implement comprehensive legislation."
Last month, Health Minister Angela Smith announced an advertising campaign to highlight a consultation period asking the public to vote for their preference from three options.
The options included backing a voluntary introduction of smoke-free public places or allowing smoking in some pubs other than those serving food.
The third option was a smoking ban in all public places and workplaces.
At the time, the health minister said smoking was "the single greatest cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland and claims almost 3,000 lives here each year".
The British Medical Association (NI) and the Royal College of Nursing (NI) were major players in the advertising campaign.
As the petition was handed over on Thursday, Dr Brian Patterson of the BMA and Martin Bradley of the RCN said their respective organisations had been promoting such action for many years.
"Introducing legislation to prevent this happening is not about restricting civil liberties," they said.
"It is about protecting workers and non-smokers from the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke."
Andrew Dougal of the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association said: "Government has a duty to protect workers from second-hand smoke in the same way that we are protected by law from other Class A carcinogens."
A smoking ban in all Northern Ireland government departments came into effect in January.
The ban sees smoking facilities removed and staff forbidden to light up on site. Prisons are exempt from the ban.
Many in Northern Ireland, particularly doctors and politicians, have called for a universal ban.
Since March last year, smoking has been illegal in workplaces, including pubs and restaurants in the Republic of Ireland.
It was the first country in the world to introduce such a nationwide ban.