A Brief Look at the History of Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping

If you’re a vaper, do you owe a huge debt to Mr. Hon Lik?  Yes we all do, though many think Mr. Lik, Chinese pharmacist, was the first to invent the concept of the electronic cigarette, he was not!

The honor of the first concept of the electronic cigarette goes to Herbert A Gilbert, who submitted a patent application in 1963!  Gilbert’s design included all the elements we’re familiar with today – a battery, a reservoir for flavored liquid and a heating element. He made a few prototypes but these were never deemed marketable in the culture of the 60’s, where smoking cigarettes was much more widely acceptable than today.

Though Mr. Lik wasn’t the first to conceptualize the electronic cigarette, was the first one to turn the vision into a reality, inventing a real device that actually worked.  He came up with his own idea independently and outside of Gilbert’s design, motivated by his father’s death from lung cancer and his own struggle to quit smoking with nicotine patches. Initially he used ultrasound technology to create the vapor, but it was found that the droplets were too large and didn’t have the same feel as cigarette smoke. When he hit on the idea of using a resistance heater, much better results were created, and paved the way for electronic cigarettes as they exist in today’s vaping market.  

In 2003, Mr. Lik registered a patent for the familiar modern design, and the first devices hit the Chinese market the next year.  By 2006 electronic cigarettes were becoming available outside of China and to date; China still remains the largest manufacturer of vaping technology products in the world.

In 2007 British entrepreneurs Umer and Tariq Sheikh invented the cartomizer, which is a mechanism that integrates the heating coil into the liquid chamber.  This invention revolutionized electronic cigarettes. They launched this new device in the United Kingdom in 2008 under their Gamucci brand, and the design is now widely adopted by most “cig-a-like” brands.

The first mod to replace the e-cigarette’s case to accommodate a longer-lasting battery, dubbed the “screwdriver”, was developed by Ted and Matt Rogers in 2008.  And in 2009, Joyetech developed the eGo series, which offered the power of the “screwdriver” model and a user-activated switch to the growing electronic cigarette world market.  

The clearomizer was invented in 2009, originating from the cartomizer design; it contained the wicking material, an e-liquid chamber, and an atomizer or heating coil within a single clear component.  The clearomizer allowed the user to monitor the liquid level in the device.  Soon after the clearomizer reached the market, replaceable atomizer coils and variable voltage batteries were introduced.  Clearomizers and eGo batteries became the best-selling customizable e-cigarette components in early 2012.  

Clearomizers paved the way to what is currently known today as tanks and coils in varying sizes, shapes, and colors.  Batteries or Mods have also evolved in size, shape, color and technological varieties ranging from variable voltage to temperature control models, as well as internal and external battery options.

The culture of vaping has expanded in leaps and bounds since Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Lik’s original concept; it is no wonder that in November 2015 the CDC data stated there were more than 9 million vapers in the US.  And in April of 2016 the French Inter-professional Vaping Federation estimates the number of vapers at 25 million worldwide.