October 07, 2021 2 min read

There is a common misconception that the vape industry is a 'new' industry, having only been formed in the last couple of years. Contrary to popular belief, the vape industry has a rather expansive history throughout many decades.   Over the course of the next several weeks we will provide a history of the vape industry, the impacts of big tobacco’s involvement with the industry, and a history of governmental regulation on vape products.

The first vape prototype was made in 1968 by Herbert A. Gilbert, a Korean War Veteran, from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. While Gilbert’s device certainly looked different from its modern counterparts, the original patent for the device features similar components as those we see in major devices today. Gilbert attempted to pitch his electronic cigarette device to major tobacco and cigarette companies, but was rejected by each one as the health risks of cigarettes weren't known at the time and cigarette sales were on the rise. Eventually Gilbert’s company folded and the electronic cigarette disappeared from the market. 

The idea of evaporated nicotine came later in 1979.  Phil Ray, the inventor of the CPU microprocessor, along with a physician Norman Jacobson came up with a device they called a “smokeless cigarette”. Their device was not electronic and utilized heat to create an evaporation of nicotine instead of combustible smoke. The first known formal research on nicotine delivery method was performed at this time with this device. While their version of an e-cigarette did land in some major retailers, the product was very faulty and ultimately it’s performance issues led to it’s quick demise. Ray and Jacobson are also the inventors who brought the term “vape” to our industry’s vernacular.

Fast-forward to 2003 when a local Chinese pharmacist, Hon Lik, came into the picture. After his father passed away from smoking cigarettes and many failed attempts to quit smoking himself, Hon Lik was inspired to make an electronic cigarette that consisted of a portable battery, an ultrasonic atomizer, and a plastic cartridge to hold nicotine. He called this device Ruyan, derived from the Chinese word meaning “pleasing to look at”. 

Hon Lik

The Ruyan allowed users to create a vaporized form of nicotine while on the go. In 2006 Hon Lik patented the e-cigarette and e-liquid and introduced his products to US markets and Europe that same year.

In our next blog entry we will do a deep dive into big tobacco’s involvement and motivations in pressuring governments to restrict access to vapor products. Stay Tuned!

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