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The History of Vaping: From the Twenties to Today

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When was the first vape ever made and when did vaping become popular? Visit the blu blog today to find out how the e-cig has evolved over the years.

In this day and age, vaping is pretty standard. Whether it’s a stranger on a street, your friend in the local pub, or someone strolling around the park, we are seeing more and more people using these alternative nicotine devices.

But, although it’s commonplace now, vaping hasn’t always been so mainstream or accepted.

So, let’s look back at where it all started to how it progressed to where it is today.

When did vaping begin?

The notion of vaping first came about more than 90 years ago in New York, but it wasn’t until a lot later that it really took off. Whether you’re wondering when the e-cigarette was invented or when vaping first became popular, this timeline covers it all.

1927: Joseph Robinson

The very first vaping seeds were planted in 1927 by an American called Joseph Robinson. He filed a patent for a device he called a ‘Mechanical Butane Ignition Vaporizer’. His patent was approved three years later but Robinson never brought it to the market, leaving the concept left under wraps for a few decades.

Original vape patent image

1963: Herbert A Gilbert

More than 40 years after Robinson’s revelation, Herbert A Gilbert stepped in to take over and bring the idea to life. Using the technology that was available in 1963, he created a cigarette alternative without combustion.

Original vape patent image 2

He came. He saw. He conquered.

The only flaw in his creation was that it just wasn’t fashionable enough to take off back then. But, with the same basic technology being used in today’s vaping devices, he well and truly left his mark on the industry.

1980s: Phil Ray

A couple of decades later and Phil Ray worked with a man called Normal Jacobson to commercialise the concept of e-cigarettes.

They produced something revolutionary: a way to inhale nicotine without combustion. The device began to look and feel more like a cigarette too, despite it actually being nicotine soaked paper, working without any combustion at all.

The idea itself still didn’t take off though, but it did put the word ‘vaping’ on the map.

2001: Hon Lik

Hon Lik, a pharmacist from China, turned his smoking vice into an invention after his father passed away from lung cancer.

First, he experimented with various vaporisation systems to find a liquid that would best replicate the sensation of inhaling tobacco smoke - and he did: propylene glycol. Coupled up with vegetable glycerine, his choice remains one of the key e-liquid ingredients to this day.

One thing Lik had on his side was technology advancements. Unlike his predecessors, he had access to modern lithium batteries, which would allow his e-cigs to run for hours at a time.

So, he put the small lithium battery into a tube to atomise the liquid nicotine solution, and in doing so, helped shape the e-cigarette we’re familiar with today.

Liks vape device image patent

Lik’s device took to the shelves in China in 2004 and entered the European and US markets in 2006 and 2007.

Read more: Hon Lik: The Man Who Invented Vaping


While Lik and Gilbert share credit for the basic design of vapes we see on the shelves today, there’s been a number of add-on inventions since.

Take Ted and Matt Rogers as an example. They were the creators of ‘modding’ (modulating the body of an e-cigarette). And Umer and Tariq Sheikh. They enhanced the traditional three-piece design by combining the cartridge and atomiser into a single cartomiser.


Fast-forward to today, and there are several fundamental vaping elements to be familiar with when picking your preferred device:

  • Battery: different batteries shave different charges.

  • Atomiser: vaporises your liquid.

  • Cartomiser: your cartridge and atomiser rolled into one.

  • Clearomiser: Clearomisers give you control over what you vape.

  • Cartridges and tanks: these are what store your liquid.

  • Mouthpiece: the bit at the end you use to inhale your substance.


With vaping advancements and increasing popularity came the need for regulations, and, here in the UK, we have some of the most robust e-cigarette regulations in the world.

As with any type of rules there’s an abundance of small print for retailers to adhere to, but some of our key regulatory components include:

All e-cigs must meet the minimum standard for both safety and quality. The packaging and labelling for every e-cig must stack up to the legal requirements – i.e. list the ingredients used (if they’re in quantities of 0.1% or more of the final solution) and contain a leaflet outlining how to use the product(s) safely

E-cigs cannot be marketed in print, broadcast, online, or any other type of digital media.

E-cigs must not be sold to people under-18. Nor can they be purchased by an adult on behalf of someone who’s under-18.

How popular is vaping?

The vaping climate is considerably different now compared to the times of Gilbert, when lack of demand caused his creation to fall through.

Domestically, the prevalence of vaping has been pretty consistent for the last few years. According to the Vaping in England: 2021 Evidence Update Summary, around 6% of adults in England vape. This equates to around 2.7million people.

Looking at other nicotine products, the popularity of smoking amongst adults in England continues to fall, with there currently being around 6 to 7 million smokers. However, the data has revealed smoking is more common in disadvantaged groups.

The number of English adults who both smoke and vape has declined over the last decade, going from 74% in 2021 to 38% as many smokers choose to make the switch to an electronic alternative.

What does the future hold for vaping?

Here at blu, we work closely with Imperial Brands and Nerudia, our home of R&D for Next Generation Products (NGPs), to create something better for the world’s smokers and vapers.

By listening to our customers, we work together to improve vaping experiences, whether that’s improving existing products or introducing new ones.

Vape batteries in particular are an area we’re looking to improve in future. We’re currently assessing new battery and charging technology, studying energy density, charging speed, battery chemistry, safety and the types of power storage.

We are also interested in new heating systems and how we can improve efficiencies with heat distribution technology, controls and formats.

For all updates on product innovation, please keep an eye on our blog where we’ll make any big announcements.

In the meantime, why not check out our bestselling vapes and e-liquids?



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