In the wake of Illinois' ban on smoking, health professionals said its still too soon for predictions about the law's impact on public health.

In the wake of Illinois' ban on smoking, health professionals said its still too soon for predictions about the law's impact on public health.

Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, the ban may be nudging more smokers to snuff out their habit for good.

Health departments and agencies with hotlines set up to help people quit smoking saw a significant increase in the number of callers at the beginning of the year. The jump in calls coincided with the Jan. 1 state law prohibiting smoking in most businesses and public spaces. Many said heavy call volume has persisted.

"It started really in December and continued throughout the year," said Kathy Drea, director of public policy at the American Lung Association of Illinois. "We are definitely making more headway."

At the "Break the Habit" program, operated by the Peoria City/County Health Department, more than 200 individuals received nicotine patches this year, compared to roughly 80 in 2007, said Health Educator Sherah Bateman.

Drea added it likely will take several years before the state sees any clear effect from the law. She cited as an example California, which first banned smoking in restaurants and work environments in 1994. Only recently, Drea said, are the benefits becoming apparent.

Thursday marks the American Cancer Society's 33rd "Great American Smokeout," an annual campaign in which the society tries to convince smokers to give up the habit for at least a day in the hope they eventually quit permanently. Anti-smoking legislation aims to make cigarettes less socially acceptable, hoping to get smokers to stop.

"When you are the only one in the group going out in the cold for a cigarette . . . maybe you think more about wanting to quit," said Kate Cohorst, spokeswoman for the American Heart Association's regional office in Springfield.

Up-to-date statistics on smoking rates are hard to come by because most figures track smoking trends on an annual basis. Even with hard numbers, experts say, it would be difficult to draw a definite causal link between the smoking ban and any drop in smoking rates.

Not all health facilities have seen a similar spike in smokers wanting to break the habit. Linda Sprague, owner of the spa-like clinic Laser Solutions, said she had an influx of people wanting to quit at the beginning of the year, only to have that number trickle off.

She said that trend is not uncommon from year to year and, in recent days, she's has seen fewer smokers trickle in. Overall, the smoking ban has not appeared to make a large impact.

"It didn't seem to really change it that much," said Spraque, whose clinic offers doses of cold laser therapy to those who want to stop smoking. "You think it would, wouldn't you?"

Frank Radosevich II can be reached at (309) 686-3142 or