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Vaping 101: The History of Vaping

23rd Jul 2020

Vaping 101: The History of Vaping

For the first instalment in our brand new  Vaping 101 series, we wanted to take things back to basics and start with the history of vaping. After all, what better place to start is there than at the very beginning?

View Our Full List of 101 Vaping Topics

E-cigarettes are often thought of as a cutting edge technology that only sprung up in recent years, so you might be surprised to learn that the modern e-cigarette gets its roots from a patent that was filed almost 90 years ago in New York. Though vaping has increased considerably in popularity in the last decade or so, vapes as you might recognise them today and similar electronic cigarette devices have been popular for many years! The evolution of vaping has been a long and gradual process, resulting in the wide range of devices and vape options available to you today!

For new beginners, vaping can seem pretty intimidating to take up! Pods, vape pens, vaporizers, mods, open system, closed system - sometimes, vaping can seem like another language entirely! What you might not know, however, is that most of these terms actually come from somewhere back in vaping history!

From ancient civilisations to Joseph Robinson’s original ‘electric vaporiser’ to Hon Lik’s first prototype, vaping has piqued the interest of millions and has gone on an incredible journey of reinvention and revolution, starting all the way back in Ancient Egypt!

The History Of Vaping Infographic

Ancient Egypt

While not technically vaping in the way we might imagine it today, the Ancient Egyptians are probably some of the oldest “vapers” in history! Archaeologists have found that the Egyptians would heat oils and herbs on hot stones and breathe in the vapour they produced. Now, this is obviously not the same as pulling out your sleek vape pen today, but it does show us that there has been a demand for that same sensation of vaping for almost as long as there have been people to vape!

Historical evidence like this shows that people have been vaping since the dawn of time! We also know that civilisations have been regularly smoking tobacco for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until around 200 years ago that we started to realise how bad cigarette smoking can be for both personal and public health. In 1798, Dr Benjamin Rush became one of the first medical professionals to condemn traditional tobacco smoking calling it “offensive” and “amoral”, as well as correctly suggesting that tobacco products can cause serious, chronic disease and cancers. Ever since, people have been trying to come up with new ways of getting that nicotine fix, with the side effects and health risks commonly associated with smoking tobacco cigarettes, with varying degrees of success!


One of the first people to create a viable alternative to cigarettes was New York resident, Joseph Robinson, who filed a patent for an ‘electric vaporiser’ in 1927. The patent was granted in 1930 but the vaporiser was never manufactured. It’s fascinating to look at how closely this design resembles a modern-day e-cigarette and the full description is hosted here by Google Patents.

You can see in the patent documents that actually, this device is very similar to most vaping devices today! The most basic components are a chamber, heating element and mouthpiece to inhale through, exactly like today’s vapes. Of course, there are a lot of elements of vaping that look pretty different, from power output to controls, to aesthetics! However, the electronic cigarette of today is still pretty close to the original 1927 vaporiser. After all, if it isn’t broken, why fix it!?


Herbert Gilbert patented the ‘Smokeless Non-tobacco Cigarette’. Hailed by many as the creator of vaping, he stays out of the limelight but conducted his first-ever on-camera interview in 2012, which you can watch here.

Sadly, this attempt to bring vaping into the mainstream was blocked and never made it past prototype devices During the 1960s, around half of American adults smoked cigarettes, and doctors were only just starting to truly recognise the massive health risks that smoking has. Not to mention, during the 1960s, big tobacco was incredibly powerful, and large tobacco companies ran several incredibly popular and iconic advertising campaigns during this period. As well as the incredibly effective marketing by big tobacco companies, there were a few technical features that made is hard for Gilbert to get his “Smokeless Non-tobacco Cigarette” off the ground. Battery power wasn’t anywhere as near as advanced as it is today, and Gilbert’s device relied on battery power to function properly. This meant that his devices didn’t last long and were large, bulky and heavy, making them even less appealing to consumers. There simply wasn’t enough market interest or incentive to quit for many smokers at this time, so Gilbert’s idea was lost as well.


Technology pioneer, Phil Ray, and his personal doctor, Norman Jacobson, worked to create the first commercial e-cigarette. Phil Ray is actually considered to be the father of the microchip, and managed the Apollo Space program, as well as making huge strides in the world of vaping - quite an impressive resume!

Although they created an electronic cigarette device, it relied on the evaporation of nicotine and was deemed a dead-end. However, Jacobson didn’t want to refer to their product as a smoking product, so he came up with a brand new term - vaping! So even if their product didn’t quite make it to market, their legacy certainly carries on!


When it comes to the modern history of vaping, we have Chinese medical researcher, Hon Lik to thank. In 2003, he patented and manufactured the first truly modern electronic cigarette in Beijing, China.

He was motivated to create a nicotine replacement therapy that would help smokers cut down and also quit after his father died of lung cancer . Hon was also a heavy smoker and found that nicotine patches weren’t as effective as he hoped, so used his skills in medicine to create a vaporizer that really worked for smokers. Would you believe that the idea for the design came to him in a dream?

Hon Lik’s design was also the first electronic cigarette to use propylene glycol in it’s vaporising formula. Propylene glycol, or PG as it is more commonly known, is still incredibly popular as an e-liquid ingredient today , as it is very safe to inhale and effectively imitates the experience of smoking a tobacco cigarette!


The first e-cigarette becomes available to the public, consisting of an ultrasonic atomiser, plastic cartridge and battery. The devices hit the Chinese market first but quickly make their way to the UK, the US and the rest of the international market by the end of the year.


Australia, Jordan, Canada, Hong Kong and Brazil (amongst others) ban the sale of e-cigarettes. Vaping starts to come under scrutiny and numerous anti-vaping papers are published, though at this time there is very little official research to confirm the benefits of e-cigarettes.


Vaping events begin to emerge, with VapeFest being held in both the UK and US for the first time. This marks the beginning of a sub-culture that nobody saw coming, that has been growing and growing ever since and fascinated (and perplexed!) the media for years.


BMC Public Health suggests e-cigarette as a potential harm reduction tool, after the conclusion of the first clinical trial of e-cigarettes.


Vaping advocacy begins, when 200 German vapers marched in Dusseldorf to protest ‘lies and misinformation’ against vaping.


The first details of the TPD begin to emerge and the first E-Cigarette Summit is held at the Royal Society in London. It was these details that reinforced the need for more research into vaping and the importance of education.


In August, Public Health England releases the landmark independent review that confirms e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking - 95% safer, in fact.


The TPD comes into effect in the EU, alongside stricter FDA regulations in the US. Despite this, vaping reaches an all-time high and more and more innovative devices are being brought to the market every month.

Nobody knows what the future holds for vaping but we hope that the ground-breaking research and changing attitudes that have been prevalent in the latter half of 2016 continue well into 2017 and beyond. Speaking of 2017, it will be the 90th birthday of the original e-cigarette - that sounds like a good reason to celebrate, don’t you think?


In 2019, we saw the number of vapers continue to grow, with half as many people in the UK vaping as smoking, with over half of vapers being ex-smokers who have used vaping to help them quit. There is also a higher proportion of ex-smokers who no longer smoke or vape than there are current vapers, showing that vaping can not only help you quit smoking, but that you can quit vaping as well! Electronic cigarettes are now the most popular nicotine replacement therapy on the market and have been shown to be twice as effective as traditional nicotine replacement therapies , like patches, gum or lozenges, when combined with behavioural support.

If you’re looking to cut down or quit smoking, the evidence is clear - vaping can help you for good.


In January 2020, the WHO released new warnings about vaping, which received a lot of pushback, particularly from UK public health officials , who described the World Health Organisation’s position as “particularly malign”, and maintained that vaping is still 95% safer than smoking.

With developments in the world of vaping changing the market all the time, there’s always something exciting on the horizon and plenty of news and updates coming our way. No matter what you need from your vape journey, the team at V2 Cigs will always be able to help you navigate the world of vaping and make sure your vape makes sense for you!