For those who indulge in it, smoking is a pleasurable and satisfying act. Nicotine is one of the few drugs that can simultaneously calm you and make you feel more alert. That probably explains why, as long as we have known that smoking is harmful to health, scientists and inventors have looked for a way to make safe smoking a reality. Is vaping the answer that smokers around the world have wanted for so many decades? The initial research is certainly promising, but we didn’t get here overnight. In fact, the modern e-cigarette has its roots in a device that’s now more than 50 years old: the original smokeless non-tobacco cigarette. Let’s learn a bit more about the incredible journey from the first non-tobacco cigarette to the devices that we use today.
Inventor Herbert A. Gilbert invented and patented the smokeless non-tobacco cigarette in 1963. His patent described a device that would simulate smoking by using a heat source to vaporize a liquid -- exactly what e-cigarettes do today. Gilbert’s invention ultimately failed to catch on because the tobacco and chemical companies he approached didn’t want to work with him. Gilbert believes that the tobacco companies in particular weren’t interested in the device because they feared that it would ultimately erode the market for tobacco products.
At least as far back as the 1960s, the major tobacco companies have worked with the goal of developing safer cigarettes. Bringing the products to market was difficult, though. The tobacco companies had to exercise caution when discussing their plans and when marketing the products after they were finally released. If the companies admitted that they were attempting to develop safer cigarettes, they’d essentially be admitting that they knew their existing products were dangerous. R.J. Reynolds hit the market first in 1988 with the Premier cigarette. The Premier contained an element that, when lit, would heat compressed tobacco without burning it. The tobacco would release a vapor that resembled smoke. Philip Morris followed suit in 1989 with the release of the Next cigarette. The Next was a more traditional cigarette that still burned like a regular cigarette but contained almost no nicotine. While the Next cigarette supplied the smoker with little nicotine, it still contained plenty of tar. Smokers didn’t like Next -- and they didn’t like Premier either. Both products failed. Some of the technology from the Premier cigarette lived on, though. Reynolds continued to refine the technology, eventually releasing the Eclipse cigarette in 1996. Reynolds discontinued the Eclipse brand in 2014.
With each successive hardware generation, PM’s heat-not-burn products have become smaller and more like tobacco cigarettes in shape.
Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik began the development of what would become the modern e-cigarette in 2001. By 2003, Hon held a Chinese patent for his device. The first e-cigarettes began to appear in China shortly thereafter. Early e-cigarettes used high-frequency vibrations to vaporize e-liquid. As the technology developed, manufacturers began to use heat rather than ultrasound to create more reliable e-cigarettes that generated larger, more satisfying vapor clouds. As important as Hon’s invention was, it actually didn’t make him rich. He invented the e-cigarette while working for a company and received a very small share of the resulting royalties. According to an interview, though, Hon had already earned substantial money from other business ventures by the time he had invented the e-cigarette.
As a growing market began to form around e-cigarettes, Chinese factories converted one after another to producing the devices. In an effort to offer unique features that their competitors didn’t have, the manufacturers worked to evolve vaping technology rapidly. Batteries became more powerful, and e-cigarettes began to use more powerful heating coils that generated ever larger clouds of vapor. Simultaneously, hobbyists around the world tinkered with electronics and machining equipment to develop rebuildable atomizers, mechanical mods and regulated mods. Today, we have vaping devices that are safer than ever, more reliable than ever and more satisfying than ever. If you are just getting into vaping now, you couldn’t have picked a better time because your experience will be infinitely better than the experiences that people had when they first tried vaping 10 years ago -- and as you can see, you have a lot of people to thank for that.
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