Every time you turn around these days, it seems like there’s someone vaping. It hasn’t always been like this, obviously, and it appears to the casual observer that this is a new trend, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. But, when exactly did vaping becoming a thing? And when did it hit that tipping point to the level that we see today?
Vaping is defined by Merriam-Webster as “inhaling vapor through the mouth from a usually battery-operated electronic device (such as an electronic cigarette) that heats up and vaporizes a liquid or solid”. Pretty spot on. And while mankind hasn’t always had those electronic devices at hand, according to Vaping Daily, the art of heating up a liquid and inhaling the steam goes back at least as far as ancient Egypt. On top of that, the first shisha became available in India thousands of years ago – and in both their ways, they contributed to the modern day equivalent we now call vaping.
The modern vaping pen had its origins in 1927, the year Joseph Robinson filed a patent for the world’s first “electronic cigarette” but there is no record that one was ever actually made.
36 years later, in 1963, a new patent for something resembling what we now know as a vape pen was filed by Herbert A. Gilbert. Gilbert did make some prototypes, but they never took off. Called “the smokeless,” Gilbert’s vape contained a liquid that was then heated up by a device powered by a battery. The vapor it created came in ten flavors including mint, rum, and cinnamon. Gilbert searched for a company to mass-produce his “smokeless”, but no one bit. Dude was ahead of his time.
Another false start happened in 1979 when Phil Ray, who’d had a lot of success with computers (he is credited with fathering the microprocessor), put his head together with his doctor’s, Norman Jacobson, to create yet another version of a vape pen. They did their research and commercialization began – only for it to run into a wall. Ray blames that on the pen itself being too faulty. But we did get one long-lasting piece of vape culture from this venture – the word “vape” was now a thing.
Vaping entered Wild West territory- the 90s and 2000s were filled with various patents filed for inhaling devices, both from tobacco companies and several individual inventors without whom we’d be nowhere. So why didn’t vaping take off then? At the time, the FDA viewed these pens as “unapproved drug delivery devices” which contributed to the murkiness of the business.
2003 saw the creation of what became the first commercially successful vaping device. Built in Beijing, China, by 52-year-old Hon Lik, on behalf of Golden Dragon Holdings, it was known as Ruyan which means “like smoke.” By 2006, pens were being introduced around Europe followed the next year by vape pens branded as “e-cigarettes” coming to the US.
The next few years saw various laws go up in several countries banning the sale of e-cigs which was primarily what vaping catered to at the time. In fact, many laws were written around the world, from the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in America to similar ones in Canada, Hong Kong, and Australia.
2010 to Today
It wasn’t until 2011 that the FDA announced it would regulate e-cigarettes in the same manner they regulate other tobacco products. “Modding”- the art of modulating the body of a pen- also became a thing when father and son Ted and Matt Rogers replaced the body of the e-cigarette they had with a small pocket flashlight.
Studies on the health properties of vaping are ongoing. The Tobacco Control journal suggested that if enough people adopted the practice of vaping, it might save the lives of 6.6 million Americans by the end of this century.
As the technology improves, so do the flavors. Vaping is here to stay – and where it goes next is anyone’s guess.