Vaping has, of course, a reputation for being a bright, fresh and shiny new success story as far as today’s mainstream activities go, yet history suggests something slightly different. The evolution of the e-cig actually dates back centuries, nay millennia…

Ancient world vaping?

Vaporising, it might be said, goes all the way back to the 5th Century BC; specifically, the Scythian civilisation of Ancient Greece. For it was these people, according to the legendary historian Herodotus, who cultivated a version of vaporising the marijuana flower atop hot coals, for the purpose of a ritual honouring the deceased. Indeed, this same concept of using a heating element as opposed to burning in order to ‘vape’ effectively led to the creation of hookah in the 15th Century AD.

The first patent

Flashing forward to the modern world now, the first patent for an ‘electric vaporiser’ was filed in 1927 by one Joseph Robinson; his idea being to produce an easy-to-use device to ‘vape’ medicinal compounds as opposed to burning them. Its design, although never mass-produced (it’s unknown whether a prototype was ever made), was certainly never intended for a nicotine-featuring smoking alternative but is nonetheless similar to today’s e-cig devices.

Herbert Gilbert – ahead of his time

Often heralded as the inventor of the world’s first e-cig device, Herbert Gilbert patented his ‘smokeless non-tobacco cigarette’ invention in 1963. It was undoubtedly the first to deploy the notion of vaporing flavoured air instead of relying on combustion; Gilbert’s thinking being that inhaling combusted material couldn’t be doing anyone any good (how right he was). It didn’t allow for the consumption of nicotine either but, in essence, its design’s remarkably similar to the modern e-cig and prototypes were made but it failed to make it to market.

Do yourself a favour!

Come the late 1970s and, finally, a kind of commercialised e-cig arrived. The brainchild of Phil Ray and Norman Jacobson, the Favor (which deployed the tagline of ‘Do yourself a favor!’ for marketing purposes), wasn’t electronic but did enable the ‘vaping’ of nicotine – even if, back then, it wasn’t known whether nicotine was toxic, yet it was known so many of cigarette tobacco’s other chemical ingredients certainly aware, none of which the Favor featured.

Patent explosion

Unfortunately, the Favor went nowhere but, as the anti-smoking movement spiralled in the 1990s, patents for smoking-alternative devices were bouncing around all over the place – some of them published by tobacco companies (no doubt to try and sit on them). Meanwhile, the call for smoking (or effectively vaping in some way) marijuana legal for medicinal purposes was gaining ground, which was another reason for the boom in patents. Indeed, in 1998, a tobacco company officially came up with an electronic cigarette, but it was turned down by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

Hon Lik changes everything

So, we come to the year 2003 and after a long history of more stops than starts, the era of vaping and e-cigs finally began thanks to the development by a Chinese pharmacist of the world’s first commercially successful e-cigarette. The man in question, Hon Lik, came up with his device owing to his father dying from lung cancer; his patented creation was named Ruyan (‘like smoke’ in Chinese) and introduced in 2006. And, with vaping technology developing and evolving at an extraordinary rate and the emergence of the vape shop and so many online outlets, the rest is indeed history!

Vape shop

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