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Who Invented Vaping, and When?

From the most primitive models to what we recognize as a vape today, the history of vapes spans almost a century. The concept of the e cigarette has been iterated on and re-imagined by people such as Joseph Robinson, Herbert A. Gilbert, Phil Ray, Norman Jacobson, and Hon Lik.
electronic cigarettes and vapes
Who invented vaping and when did the first vape come out?

A brief history of vaping for adult smokers

Have you ever wondered when vaping began? While smoking tobacco has been around for centuries, vaping is often thought of as a relatively recent innovation. Some sources say that the concept of vaping has been around since the 1920s, meaning the idea is almost 100 years old!

In 1927, a man named Joseph Robinson created the first electric vaporizer, a device which “electrically or otherwise heated to produce vapours”. From that point forward, different forms of vaping devices slowly began emerging over the years, and here we are today: with vaping as a popular smoke-free alternative that is used by adult users all over the world.

Here is a little more on vape history.

What is vaping?

Today, vaping is the act of using a vape, also known as an e-cigarette. Vapes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid, also known as e-liquid, which may contain nicotine. When the e-liquid is in contact with the vape’s heat source, it starts to vaporize and creates an aerosol, which is inhaled. As no smoke is created, vapes are classed as a smoke-free alternative to cigarettes.

Vapes come in all shapes and sizes and are known for having many different product options to choose from. Some e-cigarettes are completely disposable, while others can be reused. Some look like cigarettes (called cig-a-likes), and others may resemble cigars or pens. There are also countless e-liquid flavours to choose from, and some e-liquids even have varying nicotine levels.

When was vaping invented, and who invented the first e-cigarette?

From the most primitive models to what we recognize as a vape today, the history of vapes spans almost a century. The concept of the e-cigarette has been iterated on and re-imagined by people such as Joseph Robinson, Herbert A. Gilbert, Phil Ray, Norman Jacobson, and Hon Lik.

Joseph Robinson – did he invent the first electric vaporizer?

Believe it or not, the idea of vaping has been around for nearly 100 years. An American named Joseph Robinson introduced the first patent for an “electric vaporizer” in the late 1920s, and the patent was approved by 1930.

Herbert A. Gilbert – did he invent the first “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette”?

In 1963, Herbert A. Gilbert introduced a patent for his invention: a device he called the “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette”, an early concept that surprisingly resembles today’s e-cigarettes. They say that while he was a scrap metal dealer with no prior experience in product invention, Gilbert was a smoker himself.

Unfortunately, Gilbert never secured funding for his invention. While his patent has long since expired, it has been cited many times by other inventors, including Hon Lik, who is often considered the creator of the modern e-cigarette.

Phil Ray and Norman Jacobson – how did we get the word ‘vape’? 

Vaping as we know it today started to become more crystallized as a concept and accessible product in the 1980s. This is when the terms “vape” and “vaping” came to life. Phil Ray, the father of the microprocessor and manager of the Apollo Space Program, was a smoker himself. He started working on a “smokeless cigarette” with his personal physician, Dr. Norman Jacobson.

Their product would not require combustion, and it differed from some other inventions thus far as it also aimed to deliver a dose of nicotine. The product also looked like a cigarette in terms of shape, colour and design. Inside the device was a filter paper which was soaked in nicotine, and once inhaled, nicotine was delivered without combustion or smoke.

Ray and Jacobson were some of the first formal researchers in the field of nicotine delivery, and commercialized their product, though it did not achieve widespread success. However, it was during trial studies of the product that Ray did not want his participants to be referred to as “smokers” who were “smoking”, and thus contributed the terms “vape” and “vaping” to the vocabulary that we use today.

Hon Lik – how did we get the modern e-cigarette?

In the early 2000s, the modern and most commercially successful e-cigarette was finally born. It was invented by a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik in Beijing. A smoker himself, Lik’s first iterations were big and bulky, and he believed that the product must be more convenient for everyday, on-the-go use in order to achieve mainstream acceptance and encourage switching from cigarettes.

Lik finally developed a smaller, refined device that used a high-frequency ultrasound-emitting element in combination with a coiled heating wire to vaporize a nicotine-containing liquid. This was patented in 2003, and in 2004, e-cigarettes with a battery-powered heating element that vaporized e-liquid hit the Chinese market. By 2005, e-cigarettes started being sold internationally.

Why was vaping invented?

Most of the inventors who created “vapes” were smokers themselves who were looking for an alternative to cigarettes. Many realized the potential behind a device that could deliver a tobacco or nicotine experience without what they noted as the core issue: combustion.

New vaping technology – how are e-cigarettes different today?

Some versions of the e-cigarettes of the past did not incorporate the delivery of nicotine. It was really when that idea was introduced by Ray and Jacobson, and later improved upon by Lik, that vaping started to become commercially viable.

Ultimately, it came down to being able to develop efficient devices to deliver this experience to existing adult smokers and nicotine users. Today, companies continue to invest in developing a wider variety of improved smoke-free technologies.

This article is for general information and educational purposes. Some of the information in this article is based on external, third-party sources and we make no representations or warranties of any kind regarding the accuracy, validity or completeness of such information.

Want to learn more?

Frequently asked questions about e-cigarettes and vaping

E-cigarettes are divided into closed and open systems. A closed e-cigarette uses ready-made e-liquid capsules that are inserted into the e-cigarette, which is then ready to use. In the open system the e-liquid is bought in separate bottles. Users have to then mix liquids and fill the e-cigarettes by themselves.

E-cigarettes are also known as e-savuke, höyrystin and höyryke in Finnish. Vaping is translated in höyryttely, vapettaminen, vapottaminen and vapottelu.

E-cigarettes use e-liquid that usually consists of nicotine, flavorings, propylene glycol and glycerin. In Finland only tobacco flavored or flavorless e-liquids are allowed. There are also liquids without nicotine available for e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are smoke-free products. They heat the e-liquid that turns into vapor. There is no combustion or smoke in e-cigarettes, therefore, they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide. In cigarettes, there is combustion while tobacco is burnt and the temperature reaches more than 800°C. In the combustion more than 6000 different chemical substances are formed, of which around 100 are known to be harmful to people.

Parts of an e-cigarette include a pod for e-liquid, atomizer, battery, led-light and a button. The e-cigarette is activated when a person draws a puff.

Dry puff or dry hit is the result of a low level of e-liquid and the vapor weakening. It has a burnt taste, and it also increases the number of harmful constituents. E-cigarettes with advanced technology will detect low liquid level and prevent overheating.

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