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History of vaping

History of vaping

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

In this day and age, vaping is pretty standard. Whether it’s a stranger on a bus, your friend in the local pub, or someone strolling around the park, we are seeing more and more people using them. 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 longer after 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.

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.

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.

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


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: Atomisers 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.

E-cig spending

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

As the number of people who choose to vape increases the e-cig industry expands, and it’s estimated the global market for vapour products is worth a whopping £17.1 billion.

In 2016, the top 10 countries consuming smokeless tobacco and vape products were:

  • USA
  • Japan
  • UK
  • Sweden
  • Italy
  • Algeria
  • Norway
  • India
  • Germany
  • China

How popular is vaping?

Vaping is on the up. According to Euromonitor International, globally, there were seven million vapers back in 2011. By 2016 that number jumped up to 35 million (an 818% increase), and it’s predicted to leap to 55 million by 2021.

It’s also anticipated that vaping products will overtake both cigars and smoking tobacco by 2020, to become the single largest selling category outside of cigarettes.

On the flip side, statistics released by the World Health Organisation show the number of smokers worldwide has been slowly decreasing - from 1.14 billion in 2000 to around 1.1 billion to-date.

Vaping in Great Britain

Domestically, the prevalence of vaping has been pretty consistent for the last few years. In 2017 to 2018, it was estimated between 5.4% to 6.2% of all adults had vaped.

For current smokers that figure rose to around 14.9% to 18.5%, and dropped slightly (10.3% to 11.3%) for ex-smokers. For ex-smokers, there was a correlation between prevalence and length of time since quitting smoking - i.e. the longer an ex-smoker had stopped smoking, the less prevalent vaping became.

Interestingly, 0.4% to 0.8% of people who’ve never smoked have vaped.

Category Vaping prevalence

  • All adults 5.4% to 6.2%
  • Current smokers 14.9% to 18.5%
  • Ex-smokers 10.3% to 11.3%
  • People who have never smoked 0.4% to 0.8%

Generally speaking, the popularity of vaping is similar across socio-economic groups too.

Why do people vape?

Although every individual will have their own reason for vaping, a survey by Ernst & Young showed the most common driving factors were because it:

  • Is less harmful than cigarettes
  • Helps them cut down smoking
  • Doesn’t bother other people
  • Is banned in fewer places
  • Is available in a variety of flavours

Other findings, that came from a report commissioned by Public Health England, also cited quitting smoking as the main reason for vaping.

However, they delved deeper into socio-economic differences and discovered people from high socio-economic groups are perhaps more like to vape purely for enjoyment, while people from lower socio-economic groups were possibly more inclined to vape for the money-saving benefits.

How popular are e-cigarettes?

Pretty popular. It’s estimated 2.9 million adults in Great Britain are currently using an e-cigarette – that’s around 4.4% of the entire population. And, of those using an e-cig, 1.5 million have managed to completely stop smoking cigarettes.

Two main types of e-cigarettes exist: open-system and closed-system. Open-system e-cigs have a removable mouthpiece and refillable tank. Closed-system e-cigs come with ready-made refills that are attached to the device’s battery.

Open-system e-cigarettes are more popular.

Why are e-cigs popular?

There’s an ever-increasing bank of evidence suggesting e-cigarettes can support smokers on their journey to quitting, by settling their nicotine cravings without smoking the harmful byproducts (tar and carbon monoxide) that come with it.

If you’re using an e-cig, to make the most of them, it’s important to ensure you only turn to it when you need to, and you use the right strength of nicotine in your e-liquid. If you’re not sure which strength is best suited to you, speak to someone first - like a specialist vape outlet or your local stop smoking service.

Although e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, the only way you can fully benefit from them is by knocking your smoking habits on the head full stop.