There is a different way to get that hit of nicotine without hurting those around you.

Fans of electronic, or E-Cigarettes, claim they smoke cigarettes less and can smoke cigarettes in public or confined places without emitting second hand smoke. Health officials, on the other hand, say these battery-powered smokes are still as hazardous as the traditional lighted counterparts.

E-Cigarettes employ a cartridge pre-loaded with tobacco, flavoring and other chemicals. Smokers place the device into the mouth like a traditional cigarette, but instead of smoke, vapor is inhaled and exhaled.

"It's easier to inhale and your breath, car and clothes don't smell like smoke," said Judy Wyatt of North East.

Wyatt said she tried the device a couple months ago "out of curiosity." She only smokes under stress, she said, adding she typically goes through a traditional pack of 20 cigarettes in a week. The E-Cigarette is less obvious and less annoying.

"I keep it in my pocket. There's no ashtray, no mess, no throwing your cigarette butts out the window," she said.

However, like traditional cigarettes, E-Cigarettes still pose a health risk, according to a doctor with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"It delivers the same amount of nicotine and some are designed to deliver more nicotine than a regular cigarette," said Dr. Donald Shell, director of the Center for Health Promotion.

Shell said federal officials have been unsuccessful in getting these cheap cigarettes under the same regulatory umbrella as other buy cigarettes products.

"It is not regulated as a medical device," Shell said. "It's regulated under food, drugs and cosmetics.

"The Food and Drug Administration can't say if they are safe or how much nicotine is being inhaled," he said. Shell said a 2009 act signed by the president ties the FDA's hands.

"The act President Obama signed ... forbids the FDA from dealing with cigarettes online as a drug. They can't evaluate it on its potential harm," he said. "It's still a smoke cigarettes risk, still all the toxins associated with cancer. It's still all there."

He added because of the designation E-Cigarettes are not required to carry the same warning labels as those posted on packages of cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco.

Shell said the state is taking its own action regardless.

"Here at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene we continue to educate that all cheap cigarette online products are hazardous," he said. "Kids with asthma, cancer, maternal health. It's a huge problem."

Worse yet, Shell said because of the lack of regulation tobacco companies are developing products that appear to target young people.

"Kids are using more of the small cigars and cigarillos," he said. These can be purchased one at a time for less than a dollar, compared to almost $7 for a pack of cigarettes. "They are now coming out in flavors with colored foil wrappers."

Wyatt, who works at a store where E-cigarettes are sold, says one E-cigarette pack costs $9.99 but is equal to two packs of cigarettes.

Kuldip Singh at Cigars Etc. in Rising Sun agreed the E-cigarettes might be more convenient.

"But they don't sell well," he said. Only one kind is sold at the East Main Street store. The $9.95 pack is equivalent to 30 cigarettes.

"Our least expensive pack of regular buy cigarette online is $4.71," he said. After a couple of months on the shelves, Singh said only a handful have left the store.

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