E-Cigarettes: A Brief Walk Through History

Written by georgepeter on 3. June 2019 06:55 o'clock


Vaping has been on an upward trajectory since its inception, with a growth rate that would make any industry drool.

The number of adult vapers is projected to reach 55 million by 2021, and the global vape market is estimated to be worth $22.6bn (£17.1bn), rising more than $15 billion in just over five years, and expected to double by 2023. Figures here.

So, as the e-cig train rattles on, let's take a walk down history lane as we highlight the major turning points.

Older than you think

While vaping is a fairly new technology, the first reference to electronic cigarettes was, believe it or not, made as far back as 1927.

The first person who came up with the idea of an electronic cigarette was a gentleman who went by the name of Joseph Robinson on the said year. Robinson filed and was granted a patent for the same, but it is not clear if he ever came up with a working prototype for his invention.

But it was not until 1963 that Herbert A. Gilbert developed a 'smokeless non-tobacco cigarette' which bore a close resemblance to the modern e-cig. This version was thought to be a safer and more harmless alternative to smoking as it replaced combusting tobacco and paper with heated flavoured moist air.

Gilbert was successful in creating several working prototypes, but unfortunately they didn't translate into commercial success.

The first commercialised e-cig came about in the late 1970s courtesy of Phil Ray. It was distributed via the major retailers, but it didn't make much headway as it proved to be unreliable.

But while commercial success proved a challenge, at least this period witnessed some headway. For one, the term 'Vape' was coined. Secondly, this period marked the first time that research into methods of nicotine delivery was done.

In the '90s, there were several efforts to patent a new nicotine delivery system, but they hardly saw the light of day.

Only a handful of devices at this time resembled their modern modern-day counterparts. And while individual inventors and major tobacco firms seemed to anticipate the growth of the e-cig industry, they all failed to get ahead of the curve.

The Modern E-Cig Boom

The first successful stab at creating a commercially viable electronic cigarette was in 2003. This was courtesy of a 52-year-old pharmacist from China, Hon Lik, who supposedly developed the device after losing his father to lung cancer.

Golden Dragon Holdings, the company he worked for, saw the potential in Hon Lik's invention, a smoker himself, and decided to develop it further, going as far as to rebrand as Ruyan – which translates to 'like smoke'.

This device employed a piezoelectric element to vaporise nicotine-laced e-liquid which was diluted in a propylene glycol solution.

It proved a commercial success in Asia, but it was not until 2006 that this e-cig hit the shelves in Europe, and then the US a year later.

From then on, the take-off was well and truly underway.

The first-generation e-cig has undergone a variety of changes since then. Umer and Tariq Sheikh, two brothers from the UK, are credited for inventing the cartomiser, a component that made e-cigs more user-friendly.

The first e-cig (aka the cig-a-like) is almost going extinct as the industry continues to evolve in favour of better and more powerful devices.

Today, users prefer to start their vaping journey using personal vaporisers (vape pens) which promise a more rewarding experience. As they become more accustomed to vaping, some graduate to the more powerful mods which afford them even more control over their vaping experience.

Mods are not devices that probably encapsulate the term 'electronic cigarette', as they are far more advanced.

In fact, moving forward, it won't be surprising if the term 'vaping devices' becomes the de facto description of all e-cig devices, as we are already starting to see.

The Future of Vaping

Since the first invention of the modern-day e-cig in 2003, vaping's growth curve has been on a perpetual upward trend, and that doesn't look like changing anytime soon.

As pointed out at the start of this post, future industry projections are looking up. Success and further growth of the industry, however, will hinge upon the long-term effects of vaping.

As it is, vaping has not been around long enough to establish its safety in a more definite voice as is the case with smoking. There have been hundreds of studies into its effects, but findings differ.

In the meantime, though, the juggernaut continues to roll on.


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