Nurses want the Government to ban smoking in public places. Eighty-six per cent of delegates at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) conference in Harrogate voted in favour of lobbying for a law prohibiting smoking in offices, pubs, restaurants and open spaces.

Desmond McCarron, who proposed the motion, said: "In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, the RCN should not continue to sit on the fence on this issue. A burning cigarette is the equivalent of a little toxic waste-dump on fire, emitting benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, cyanide."

Geoff Earl, a delegate, said: "It is a health and safety issue. If you want to smoke you can, but you don't have the right to kill other people." The chief medical officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, is in favour of legislation, but the Government has consistently shied from backing the idea.

Health campaigners say that a ban introduced in New York two years ago is already having a positive impact, and Ireland introduced a similar law last month. They say ministers here are afraid of being accused of "nanny stateism".

In a separate debate, RCN delegates voted overwhelmingly against proposals to subject nurses to mandatory drug tests. Just 6 per cent supported the plans. Some hospital trusts have proposed the tests for all staff, and a pilot scheme is being set up in Scotland.

Between 2001 and 2002, 60 nurses were reported to the regulatory body the Nursing and Midwifery Council over drink and drug problems.