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The History of Vaping - When Were Vapes Invented?

2nd Mar 2022

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. When did vaping first start? How did the idea come to fruition and what was the purpose? These are just some of the important questions asked by curious enthusiasts who want to understand the history of vaping.

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 nearly a century 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, 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 come from somewhere back in vaping history! From ancient civilisations to Joseph Robinson’s original ‘electric vaporiser’ to Hon Lik’s prototype, vaping has piqued the interest of millions and has gone on an incredible journey of reinvention and revolution.

View Our Full List of 101 Vaping Topics

When Were Vapes Invented?

There are three important dates in the past hundreds of years which have shaped the development of the e-cigarette. It all started in 1927 during a time of bold ideas just before the Wall Street crash. 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!?

Fast forward to 1963 and a man named Herbert A Gilbert took Robinson’s idea to the next stage, filing a patent for an electronic smoking device. 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, the attempt by Gilbert 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 it 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.

Was Hon Lik the Godfather of Vaping?

Whether you believe it was Robinson, Gilbert or Lik that was behind the invention of the e-cigarette and vaping as a phenomenon, what we do know is all three innovators had the same idea in mind. The work of Robinson and Gilbert were both important factors but the concept of modern-day vaping, enjoyed by millions is thanks to Hon Lik as of 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. Lik 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 worked for smokers. Would you believe that the idea for the design came to him in a dream?

Inspired to help people like his father, Hon Lik’s design was also the first electronic cigarette to use propylene glycol in its 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!

Can We Trace Back Vaping Even Further?

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 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.

Vaping as We Know it Today

For the past 15 years, vaping has come on leaps and bounds. At the turn of 2010, we saw the emergence of its popularity and awareness, not just among the UK public but on a global scale. We witnessed the birth of vaping conventions, festivals and tournaments to celebrate the cultural identity of the cessation tool that helps vapers quit smoking and reduce their nicotine levels in a variety of ways. However, in 2013 we saw the first details of the TPD begin to emerge and the first E-Cigarette Summit was 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 2016 following the groundbreaking 2015 review demonstrating the potential of e-cigarettes by Public Health England as 95% safer than cigarettes, TPD regulations were established 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.

How Can the Vaping Industry Build on Nearly 100 Years of History?

More recently, we’ve seen the number of vapers continue to grow, 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 are 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.

And there was even more amazing news at the end of 2021 from the UK government as they announced the NHS could become the first medical body in the world to prescribe e-cigarettes to patients looking to quit 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!