A Brief History of Vaping and Present Outlook

A Brief History of Vaping

The history of vaping can be viewed from many different angles. Looking back on it, it wasn’t too long ago that vaping was nothing more than the brainchild of scrapyard worker and inventor Herbert A. Gilbert. It was Gilbert who has been credited with patenting his invention of a “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette,” initially in 1963. It was an invention with a high promise that never gained any ground. 

This wasn’t too long after a Philip Morris (owners of the Marlboro brand, et al.) scientist admitted that heavy smoking was contributing to lung cancer and that the first company to come up with “a cigarette claiming a substantial reduction in tars and nicotine… will take the market,” in 1958. It was a ground-breaking statement in the 50s, but also never gained much steam in the industry.

This, too, wasn’t incredibly far removed from an invention by Joseph Robinson for the electric vaporizer in 1927. Robinson says in his patent that the device is for “holding medicinal compounds,” giving it a decent relationship to modern vape devices. It was a truly innovative device in its day that did little more than receive a patent. This is the moment that could truly be seen as the genesis of the vaping industry, long before the modern implementation. The history of vaping starts here. 

Modern devices are often traced back to Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik. After his father’s passing due to lung cancer, Hon Lik took to implementing his vision for the modern e-cigarette which was fueled by his desire to satisfy his nicotine cravings while attempting to keep himself from befalling the same fate as his father. Having already been working on the basics of vaping for a simpler way to intake Chinese remedies such as ginseng and deer antler, Hon had a great jumping off point to begin with, and the rest had come to him in a dream.

The idea of the electronic cigarettes came to me in a dream in 2000. Coughing and wheezing, I imagined I was drowning, until suddenly the waters around me lifted into a fog.” – Hon Lik

Hon Lik’s “electronic atomization cigarette” patent was submitted in 2004, an invention which he describes in the patent as “an electronic atomization cigarette which contains nicotine without harmful tar.” By the time his U.S. patent was approved, Hon and his company, Ruyan, which translates literally as “like smoke,” had already been selling e-cigarettes in China. 

The slow growth of vaping for the better part of the 20th century eventually boomed in less than five years after Hon Lik’s patent. In 2006 electronic cigarettes hit Europe, and in February 2007 the first e-cigarettes appeared in the U.S. at the American Tobacco Expo. Vape became a mainstream phrase by 2009, and by 2014 “vape” was the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year.

From 2007 forward, the vaping industry has both grown exponentially and fought for the very right to grow, simultaneously. Even before the FDA deeming regulation effective August 8, 2016, the industry had to fight to survive for nearly a decade without government intervention. Large numbers of independent groups called for its regulation or outright ban, either based on pure misunderstanding or otherwise. The addition of government regulation increased concerns about the opposition to the vaping industry that would have a harder fight moving forward. 

Present Outlook

Looking to the future of vaping brings the potential for hope amid concerns. The FDA recently announced it has begun taking action against companies found in violation of the rules the FDA has announced in regards to sales, marketing, and product introduction to the market. So far this hasn’t resulted in an immense change in the industry, but it is the first legitimate step towards enforcement that we’ve seen from the agency. They’ve also announced future plans of “additional enforcement actions focused on companies that we think are marketing products in ways that are misleading to kids.” 

The changes in marketing requirements are likely to change the landscape of the vaping industry, but it is the impending Premarket Tobacco Application deadline currently set for 2022, that will likely cause a seismic shift in this lucrative industry. 

Currently, vaping exists with two types of shops: mom-and-pop establishments that were created simply for the purpose of helping themselves and their communities, and shops that sprung up to make a quick buck, regardless of how they do it. One of these is endangering the other currently, but both are in danger once expensive and time-consuming PMTAs become due in a few years.  While the actual cost of these applications is hard to pin down, there are a few facts to consider: the FDA estimates that it costs “in the low to mid hundreds of thousands of dollars” per product and approval is far from guaranteed.  

Looking at this future is difficult, even though dates and deadlines are currently in place. The FDA as an agency has more than once delayed these deadlines, and constant legal proceedings have a way of changing things, whether that means a date further in the future, or sooner.

Added to that, new studies are completed regularly in both the United States and otherwise. These future findings could very well change things as well and have been doing so in other countries for years. Herein lies the biggest reason for hope for the vaping industry as a whole. It is not just vapers who believe in the industry, there are a lot of brilliant and powerful scientists and lobbyists who are just as passionate. But, as with anything else, the opposition can say the same. 


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