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A Comprehensive History of Vaping


Time to read 7 min

This in-depth article delves into the fascinating origins of e-cigarettes, tracing their development from early prototypes to cutting-edge modern devices.

Although the Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik recently popularized vaping, it has been a long and hardy road to create the preceding technology which made his invention possible. Hon Lik made the device commercially available, but the electronic cigarette has a far longer history than that of the handsets we know today. 

From the very first patent holders of the e-cigarette to processing power needed for the electronics part of the device to come together, this article aims to shed light. Vaping is not the one-man invention of vape kits begun in 2001. Rather, it is the result of a complex, lengthy scientific process which may see it become the natural evolution to smoking.


A Comprehensive History of Vaping 1

What is Vaping? 1

The Invention of the E-Cigarette 1

Early Prototypes and Designs 2

Joseph Robinson’s Vaporizer - 1927 2

Herbert A. Gilbert’s Patent – 1963 2

Phil Ray and Norman Jacobson’s Nicotine Evaporation device – 1979 2

Vaping Technology Advancements 2

Regulation and Safety Concerns 3

The Growth of Vaping Culture 3

Vaping is an Evolutionary Process 4

What is Vaping?

If you are new to, you might also be new to vaping. This is the term we apply to the use of e-cigarettes since they create vapour, which users inhale and exhale. 

Unlike cigarette smoke, inhaling vapour contains thousands less chemicals. It is considered far safer by organisations such as Cancer Research UK and Action Against Smoking. Vaping involves heating a liquid which contains flavourings in a suspension of thick vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol mixtures. Once heated, these mixtures release pleasant tastes for users to enjoy.

Nowadays, disposable kits are the best way to test vaping for yourself to find out if you like it or not. If you do decide to vape longer term, we encourage you to purchase a reusable vape device through our online UK vape shop. Using a reusable vape device is cheaper over time and better for the environment. 

The Invention of the E-Cigarette

E-cigarettes evolved out of the need for smokers to find a safer way to receive their nicotine hit. The very first put together vape pen was created specifically for that purpose. Although the very first device was patented in 1965 by a man named Gilbert, but we will look into this more in a moment. For now, let’s talk about the first production of the actual physical vape device, and not the paper theory behind it.

The pharmacist Hon Lik created the E-cigarette in the early 2000’s with the devices first hitting American and UK markets in 2006. In a very controlled release of information, the Chinese attribute the creation of these devices to this man who came from Shenyang. The first e-cigarette was called the Ruyan. 

Hon Lik was a heavy smoker that worked for a company owned by Imperial Tobacco. After watching smoking kill his father, Hon Lik realised his future looked too similar for comfort. He created the smokeless tobacco system which used vape juice to deliver the same levels of nicotine he needed to satisfy his addiction without breathing in those extra chemicals found in cigarettes. The resulting e-cigarette spread around the world as an answer to a global issue. 

Early Prototypes and Designs

Hon Lik didn’t start with nothing. Without the technologies which proceeded his invention, he would never have been successful. 

Joseph Robinson’s Vaporizer - 1927

The story starts in 1927 when an American man named Joseph Robinson filed a patent. His idea was to use a butane filled storage device combined with an ignition sequence to create a vaporizer. The idea was that the ignition triggered the release of the gas, which would ignite to vaporize a liquid. Although sound in theory and although the patent cleared three years later in 1930, the machine was never produced for the market.

Herbert A. Gilbert’s Patent – 1963

Herbert A. Gilbert reports that when he initially came across the idea for an e-cigarette, the world was not ready for it. Those who he appealed to for money to produce the design had greater interests in tobacco and the production of cigarettes. Those who might have financed the production chose to sit on the idea instead. The patent was never commercialised and once again, e-cigarettes were put on the back burner. 

Phil Ray and Norman Jacobson’s Nicotine Evaporation device – 1979

Cut to 1979 and two promising computer scientists who toyed with the idea of nicotine evaporation within a device. Although the idea promised an interesting form of nicotine delivery, it just never caught on. It wasn’t technically a vaporizer and nor was it electronic, but it was an early attempt at a cigarette alternative which incorporated nicotine delivery within its purpose.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s when vaping technology advanced far enough for manufacturer’s to start making prototypes. Next, let’s examine the vaping tech advancements which made the modern e-cigarette possible.

Vaping Technology Advancements

In the 90’s, tobacco companies knew they were operating on limited means. It became a race against one another to research and develop newer, healthier ways of smoking. Numerous attempts at patents included devices which heated nicotine in an inhaler system. Indeed, the Nicorette inhaler became a possibility and later a product which derived from these inventions. Eventually these became the Ruyan – ‘like smoke’.

Since that early 00’s invention, vape technology has improved on a global level. Some of the marked improvements in technology include:


  • Battery power increases – early vapes had batteries less than 550mAh and modern ones can hit upwards of 3000.
  • Refillable pods – original single use plastic pods have been replaced with washable, refillable pods.
  • Sharper ignition technology – improvements in heating, coils, and wicks, have all led to concise, safer devices.
  • LED controls – the modern device might have in-depth controls and an LED display panel.
  • Vape juice – the emergence of nic salts changed the production of vape juice from freebase nicotine.
  • Disposable vape tech – single use vapes became popular and are mid-evolution based on changing regulations.
  • Smaller, sleeker devices, designed to fit into your pocket.
  • Larger, more powerful devices were designed for cloud chasing and experienced vape users.
  • Smart vape devices – your vape can now come with Bluetooth and connect to other devices.

Other areas of improvement in vaping technology include flavour variety, recycling, use of sustainable materials, temperature control, and the fine tuning associated with vape mods.

Regulation and Safety Concerns

Initially, vape devices were met with a little trepidation. Why? Because the thought of having an electronic spark or current so close to the face upset people. There was a worry about vaping in the open, where exposure to rain or bad weather might cause a reaction with the electricity contained within the device. The UK government – and governments around the world – created  vape regulations as a way to make vape devices safer. 

Asides from the initial safety concerns regarding the electricity contained within the devices, the modern media express concerns about the contents of vape juices. This is where regulations come into play to protect the public. 

The UK government monitors the use of chemicals as vape flavours. Each device manufacturer in the UK must declare themselves to the authorities, listing each ingredient in each device and product they make. The UK government has banned toxic chemicals which cause harm and which may still be in use in other countries. The UK has some of the tightest vaping regulations in the world.

Regulations include things like limiting the tank size of each vape device, limiting the nicotine strength of each vape juice, and even preventing the sale to minors. In fact, the UK government Trading Standards department do a thorough job in preventing the use and sale of illegal vape devices throughout the UK. 

The Growth of Vaping Culture

Vaping culture truly didn’t begin until the general public began to accept the use of vape devices in public spaces. At first there was a little confusion regarding the regulations. Were vapes allowed indoors? Could you use them on aeroplanes? Were you allowed to take them abroad? All these questions were eventually put to bed through closer regulations, but they took a while to work out.

Once sorted, vaping culture began to explode. The choice in flavours grew from basic fruit and tobacco to a world of inspirational choices. Vape devices grew in strength, evolved to meet consumer needs, and took on bright colours and bold packaging. All this created a cool, youth-focused culture of branding and high energy products which are only now evolving to focus on the older user. 

We started off with the electronic device which used clip-in pods to change. Now, we have open tank systems, vape devices with smart connections, and now there are even vape mods, allowing the user full control over the fine tuning of their own vape device. Society has accepted vape devices to the extent that there are now vaping competitions. Vape history is still in the making, but we bet the future includes bigger, better products.

Vaping is an Evolutionary Process

The vape device has evolved based on a series of scientific advances which, though seemingly unrelated, have come together to create a healthier alternative to cigarette smoking. Although the first vaporizer was produced nearly a hundred years ago, the modern version does more than the original patent owners ever thought possible. 

Nowadays, the vape device is one of the most effective methods of nicotine delivery system which has helped thousands of people quit smoking. Although the modern media like to demonise vaping, the truth is far more positive. We only have to compare rates of youth smoking and rates of youth vaping to see the huge cultural shift which electronic cigarettes have brought our society. 

In another hundred years – who knows? Perhaps we can eliminate smoking entirely.