Have you ever wondered when vaping began? While smoking tobacco has been around for centuries, vaping is often thought of as a relatively recent innovation. Some sources say that the concept of vaping has been around since the 1920s, meaning the idea is almost 100 years old!
In 1927, a man named Joseph Robinson created the first electric vaporizer, a device which “electrically or otherwise heated to produce vapors”. From that point forward, different forms of vaping devices slowly began emerging over the years, and here we are today: with vaping as a popular, smoke-free alternative that is used by adults all over the world.
What is vaping?
Today, vaping is the act of using a vape, also known as an e-cigarette. Vapes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid, also known as e-liquid, which may contain nicotine. When the e-liquid is in contact with the vape’s heat source, it starts to vaporize and creates an aerosol, which is inhaled. As no smoke is created, vapes are classed as a smoke-free alternative to cigarettes.
When was vaping invented, and who invented the first e-cigarette?
Believe it or not, the idea of vaping has been around for nearly 100 years. An American named Joseph Robinson introduced the first patent for an “electric vaporizer” in the late 1920s, and the patent was approved by 1930.
In 1963, Herbert A. Gilbert introduced a patent for his invention: a device he called the “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette”, an early concept that surprisingly resembles today’s e-cigarettes. They say that, while he was a scrap metal dealer with no prior experience in product invention, Gilbert was a smoker himself. Unfortunately, Gilbert never secured funding for his invention. While his patent has long since expired, it has been cited many times by other inventors, including Hok Lik, who is often considered the creator of the modern e-cigarette.
Vaping as we know it today started to become more crystallized as a concept and accessible product in the 1980s. This is when the terms “vape” and “vaping” came to life. Phil Ray, the father of the microprocessor and manager of the Apollo Space Program, was a smoker himself. He started working on a “smokeless cigarette” with his personal physician, Dr. Norman Jacobson. Their product would not require combustion, and it differed from some other inventions thus far as it also aimed to deliver a dose of nicotine. The product also looked like a cigarette in terms of shape, color and design. Inside the device was a filter paper which was soaked in nicotine, and once inhaled, nicotine was delivered without combustion or smoke.
Ray and Jacobson were some of the first formal researchers in the field of nicotine delivery, and commercialized their product, though it did not achieve widespread success. However, it was during trial studies of the product that Ray didn’t want his participants to be referred to as “smokers” who were “smoking”, and thus contributed the terms “vape” and “vaping” to the vocabulary that we use today.
Hon Lik - how did we get the modern e-cigarette?
In the early 2000s, the modern and most commercially successful e-cigarette was finally born. It was invented by a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik in Beijing. A smoker himself, Lik’s first iterations were big and bulky, and he believed that the product must be more convenient for every day, on-the-go use in order to achieve mainstream acceptance and encourage switching from cigarettes.
Lik finally developed a smaller, refined device that used a high frequency ultrasound-emitting element in combination with a coiled heating wire, to vaporize a nicotine-containing liquid. This was patented in 2003, and in 2004, e-cigarettes with a battery-powered heating element that vaporized e-liquid hit the Chinese market. By 2005, e-cigarettes started being sold internationally.
Why was vaping invented?
Most of the inventors who created “vapes” were smokers themselves who were looking for an alternative to cigarettes. Many realized the potential behind a device that could deliver a tobacco or nicotine experience without what they noted as the core issue: combustion.
Today, e-cigarettes are smoke-free alternatives to continued smoking that provide a nicotine containing aerosol without combustion, thus with potentially lower levels of potentially harmful chemicals, although not risk-free.
New vaping technology - how are e-cigarettes different today?
Some versions of the e-cigarettes of the past did not incorporate the delivery of nicotine. It was really when that idea was introduced by Ray and Jacobson, and later improved upon by Lik, that vaping started to become commercially viable. Ultimately, it came down to being able to develop the efficient devices to deliver this experience to existing adult smokers and nicotine users.
Today, companies continue to invest in developing a wider variety of improved smoke-free technologies. For example, IQOS can offer different smoke-free alternative options to every adult who would otherwise continue to smoke, including e-cig IQOS VEEV and heated tobacco that allows the heating of real tobacco without the need for burning.