Contrary to popular belief, electronic cigarettes have been available for nearly 100 years with the first iteration of an electronic cigarette patent granted to Joseph Robinson in the 1930’s. This early prototype was never commercialized and therefore never brought to market.
The first commercial electronic cigarette patent was filed by Herbert A Gilbert on August 17th, 1965. 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.
In 1979, Phil Ray, one of the two original creators of the modern personal computer, worked with his personal primary care physician, Norman Jacobson to create the first commercial “smokeless cigarette”. Their device was not electronic; utilizing evaporation of nicotine instead of 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 its performance issues led to its 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”.
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.