History of the e-cigarette: who invented it and how it started

The e-cigarette is a common sight these days, it's hard to walk down the street without seeing at least one person creating a cloud of vapour with a big vapouriser or someone puffing away discreetly on a cigarette like device. And with over 3.6M people in the UK alone using them to finally get off the cigarettes, they won't be going away anytime soon.

 

Despite e-cigarettes coming coming in all shapes and sizes they all follow the same basic premise, a flavoured liquid with nicotine in is heated up until it becomes vapour. You then treat the vapour like you would smoke by breathing it in.

 

For an idea that seems so futuristic, (an electronic cigarette you can charge up and is 95% less harmful than cigarettes would have sounded like an idea from a science fiction novel 20 years ago) the concept of a healthier alternative to smoking has actually been floating around since the 1920’s!

 

While the earliest electronic cigarettes were far from the easy-to-use, vape refills of today, they were marvels at the time they were first introduced. An American man called Joseph Robinson created the first-ever electronic cigarette, unveiled officially in the year 1930.

 

Joseph's invention was sadly never available for sale and was created for medicinal use only, and quickly faded into obscurity. By 1963 another American, Herbert A. Gilbert, had introduced a version more similar to today's models.

 

This newer version did not use tobacco but instead was patented as "a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette" and used flavoured air turned into steam. 

Sadly it didn’t catch on, the world still loved their cigarettes and the dangers of smoking were not well understood.

 

Another damning facet of the design was that Gilbert's version was nicotine free, and without the nicotine hit most smokers wouldn't even consider it.

 

What we know as the modern e-cigarette was created in 2003 by the Chinese inventor and pharmacist Hon Lik. Due to the death of his father from smoking, and being a 3 pack a day smoker himself, Hon Lik was determined to find an alternative. He wanted to create something that had the all important nicotine hit and felt like a cigarette, but wouldn't have the same death toll.

 

His first attempt though wasn't what we would think of as a e-cigarette. Instead of heating the e-liquid and producing vapour like we have now, Lik’s initial design used a piezoelectric ultrasound element, which is the same technology dehumidifiers use. This technically worked, but was too big to really use.

 

Hon Lik kept working on it though and by 2003 had created what we think of as the e-cigarette.

 

It wasn’t until 2007 though that the e-cigarette made their way to Europe and the US. But pretty soon after they were introduced their popularity exploded. And it’s not hard to see why. Here was a new product that smokers could satisfy their nicotine cravings with, while reducing the damage to themselves.

 

While the designs of the e-cigarette have changed, the concept that all three of these inventors tried to create hasn't. We now have e-cigarettes in a whole host of flavours and strengths, and millions of people have been able to finally get off the cigarettes thanks to them.

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