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The History of Vaping & E-Cigarettes: A Brief Introduction

November 08, 2023

The world of vaping and electronic cigarettes has evolved tremendously over the last few years. It's almost impossible not to see someone vaping in any major city. Today, there are various types of vapes, mods, and accessories available on the market. 

It might surprise you to learn that the first electronic cigarettes entered the market over three decades ago. Continue reading below to learn the complete history of vaping. 

When Did Vaping Start?

Vaping as we know it today didn't exist until a Chinese pharmacist sought out an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Most commonly, Hon Lik gets credited for having created the first modern vape kit using a small battery and a chip kit to produce the vapour. However, researchers for Philip Morris also have contended that other precursors introduced the modern e-cigarette as early as the 1960s.

Regardless, after a few years, Hon's vape kit became the most popular option for people looking to switch away from cigarette smoking. He called his company "Ruyan,” which translates to “like smoke.” 

Once Ruyan developed a satisfactory prototype, they started distributing their vape kits throughout Europe and the Middle East. Word got out fast, and US-based companies Smoke Anywhere and Vuse started selling similar kits in America. 

The American kits came with rechargeable batteries, refillable atomizers, and numerous other features that made them favourable. In 2007, the United States cleared the importing of e-cigarettes, which brought the market to new heights. 

When Were Vapes Invented?

Vaping has been around for thousands of years. The Egyptians used water vapours and thermal baths for cosmetic purposes, with evidence of these practices dating back to Cleopatra's times. However, modern vaping devices first surfaced at the turn of the 20th century. 

The first filing and approval for an e-cig patent prototype occurred back in 1927. The inventor, Joseph Robinson, originally made the “electric vaporizer” device to vaporize medicinal substances. There were no intentions of using tobacco until the first patented e-cigarette came out in 1967. 

Both devices had a similar setup. Each used a heating apparatus and flavour cartridge to produce the vapour. These cartridges were an early introduction to the modern pod vapes we know today

While these inventions were revolutionary, they didn't perform well for the general public. The idea of electronic cigarettes sort of died down until Hon Lik's kit in 2003. 

Who Made the First Vaping Device?

Herbert A. Gilbert gets credit for inventing the first “smokeless” electronic cigarette for use in 1963. His device didn't contain any tobacco or nicotine but instead used flavoured liquids for the vapour. The patent cleared in 1965, and Gilbert started working on a few other similar gadgets. 

However, his electronic cigarette didn't receive any commercial interest. Most people weren't aware of the damage of smoking until the late 1960s. It wasn't until a few decades later that people were looking for other alternatives to tobacco. 

The public's disinterest wasn't the only obstacle Gilbert faced. For his first device, he relied on battery power for energy. Essentially, his idea was a bit ahead of his time, considering battery technology didn't improve until the turn of the century. 

A Brief History of Vaping

Vaping devices have evolved by leaps and bounds over the last 80 years. Here's an overview of the history of the vape:

1930s

Joseph Robinson invented the concept of an electronic cigarette in 1927 and got clearance for it in 1930. Unlike the products we know today, Robinson's invention was primarily for medical use. He wanted to create a device that could vaporize herbs for medicinal purposes. 

The technology was quite impressive and comprehensive for the time. There were a lot of smokers in the 1920s, but portable electronic devices were not so common. 

However, the invention was never available commercially and instead functioned as a starting point for future gadgets. 

1960s

American inventor Herbert A. Gilbert created the first “non-tobacco” device that resembles the modern e-cigs we know today. Gilbert created the gadget around 1963 and got it approved for a patent in 1965. All his prototypes didn't contain nicotine and weren't a commercial success. 

Gilbert claims that there wasn't any commercial success with his devices because big tobacco companies didn't appreciate the idea of tobacco-free smoking. There were also reports of companies wanting to wait for the patent to expire before distributing Gilbert's device so they could license and sell their own. 

That said, there's no evidence that his electronic cigarette would be a commercial success. The idea was completely new to the public and would take time to adapt to the market. 

1979

In 1979, computer engineer Phil Ray partnered with his doctor Norman Jacobson to develop the first commercialized electronic cigarette. Writer Laurie Collier Hillstrom describes how the men chose the term “vaping” rather than “smoking” because the mechanism did not involve combustion

Their team invested significant research into nicotine delivery methods to optimize their devices for the market. While they did create a slight buzz within the public, their technology wasn't seamless enough for widespread success. 

1990s

By the early 1990s, word about electronic cigarettes and vaping had spread. Numerous companies tried to create a device that would dominate the market and lead to the breakthrough of this new technology. 

However, several of these companies tried the evaporation method that Ray and Jacobson adopted in the late 1970s. 

No matter how much resources they spent on research and development, no company could create a user-friendly product for the general market. A few major tobacco companies tried to create an alternative to smoking and sought FDA approval. However, they couldn't get approval on the basis that their products were a drug-delivery service. 

For the rest of the 1990s, vaping development plateaued. Several products launched and failed before gaining enough traction and reaching global success. 

2003

Vaping, as we know it, truly began in 2003. Here is where Hon Lik's modern vape kit came to market and almost immediately reached worldwide success. His kit consisted of the standard electronic batteries, pods, and atomizers we all recognize. 

He created the company Ruyan, which started selling kits throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East around 2006. 

2006-2008

Vaping started to become popular in the United States and Europe from 2006 to 2008. While still a new concept, the public was looking for other alternatives to cigarette smoking. However, vaping didn't enter these new markets without any friction.

Several nations suspended the importation of e-cigarettes because of their high nicotine content. Turkey was one of the first countries to ban e-cigarette imports because of the general lack of information about their safety and potential side effects. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) mandated that vape manufacturers not claim on any labels that they state e-cigarettes are safe. However, a study by Public Health England states that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than cigarette smoking. 

The Future of Vaping

A study by Euromonitor International estimates that roughly 68 million people use vape products worldwide. In the early 2000s, there were limited options for mods and e-cigarettes. Although there were numerous brands to choose from, the technology was extremely similar. 

Things are much different today. You can get a plethora of high-tech variations of e-cigarettes, vape mods, and other devices online from virtually anywhere in the world. 

While smoking has gradually become less socially acceptable, vaping's future seems quite bright. More people are starting to understand the technology and all the features an electronic cigarette offers. 

The popularity of vapes is likely to rise over the next few years, and many big players are entering the manufacturing game. You now have Silicon valley giants, large tobacco companies, and several other big firms developing and releasing new devices every year.

Here are some trends to look out for:

  • Smaller Devices. Vape manufacturers have always been trying to make their devices more compact. So, we can expect to see smaller devices over the next few years.
  • More Transparency. Today, people want to know what's in their vape. Companies are under obligation to be more transparent about how their devices work and any potential side effects.
  • Stronger Devices. People drop their vapes all the time. In the past, a serious drop could result in a broken device. Today, vapes are much more durable and long-lasting. While it's not the best idea to be clumsy with your device, your chances of it breaking are much lower.

Final Thoughts

No doubt, the history of vaping is full of stories of trial and error. It took several decades before an inventor could create a commercially successful prototype. Now, vaping is taking the world by storm, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. 

It's fascinating to see where the industry is going in the future and what kinds of devices you can expect to see.




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