How humanity invented vaping

and kept smoking anyway

How humanity invented vaping

and kept smoking anyway
Early 2000s, China. Hon Lik, a pharmaceutical scientist whose father died of cancer, invents and develops an electronic alternative to regular cigarettes. The device, just as Hon Lik anticipated, quickly becomes popular. Or at least that is the official story.

But Hon Lik wasn’t the first. The history of vaping is much more complex and interesting.


People have been breathing vapors since ancient times. In his "Histories", written in 5th century BC, Herodotus wrote the following about the Scythians:
"The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed, and […] throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy"
the daddy of history
However, this primarily concerns something other than pleasure: Herodotus interpreted this Scythian custom as a special cleansing ritual after a funeral.

The hookah can be considered an indirect precursor of vaping — not in terms of the principle behind it, naturally, but rather in terms of the smoker’s aesthetic interaction with the clouds of smoke. There are different opinions regarding its inception, with the most common ones stating that it first appeared in Persia or India in the 16th century.

Regarding the principle of operation, the inhaler became vaping’s first ancestor. The idea of inhaling medicinal vapors has been known since antiquity: for example, Galen, the ancient Roman physician, offered to treat just about anything with opium — from dizziness to deafness and loss of voice. Ancient Greek and Arab healers liked to prescribe inhalations to their patients as well.

However, special devices for inhalation only appeared in the 18th century: in the year 1778 John Mudge connected a bowl with a tube and started treating his patients' cough with opium.
The history of inhalers begins at the "Mudge's mug". It didn't have a heating element, nor (let's be honest) any real therapeutic functionality, however the word 'inhaler' itself was coined by Mudge.
Such devices have been repeatedly altered and modified up to the present day — you too can buy yourself an inhaler at the nearest pharmacy. However, nobody was trying to quit smoking with inhalers. Until the 20th century.

Ideas, inventions, patents

The first prototypes of mechanical and electrical vaping devices began to appear in the first half of the 20th century. There was no inventor who would come and say: "OK, smoking is harmful, let’s create a flavored mixture of glycerin and nicotine that we will heat up and inhale as vapor". And for a long time the harm of smoking wasn’t something obvious: in the 20s and 30s advertisements for cigarettes often directly talked about the benefits of smoking cigarettes.

Nevertheless, individual inventors have gradually patented more and more new ideas that foreshadowed the invention of vaping. We will list the main ones here.

1954. Otto Lobl, an American inventor, decided to help people quit smoking, patenting an imitation of a cigarette with various flavors. He did not specify exactly how to heat them up.

Four years later, his compatriot Frank Bartolomeo patented a tobacco-flavored cigarette that worked without fire — according to his design, it would allow smoking in places where it was previously forbidden, for example, near inflammable substances.
In March 1951, Gene Kardos' patent for a light-up toy cigarette was published. It was intended for children who have always been known to imitate adults. There was no tobacco or nicotine in the device — nevertheless, it can be rightfully called the progenitor of iJust and similar vape devices.
In August 1965, Herbert A. Gilbert patented a cigarette for safe smoking — it didn’t have any tobacco or smoke, instead it had warm flavored air. The air was heated up and passed through a sponge with an aromatic liquid. And this device was also expected to be used for medical purposes.

In 1989 a new kind of cigarette was invented that would help receive the most nicotine out of a smoking session — according to the patent’s authors, part of the nicotine contained in a regular cigarette leaves with the smoke. To solve this, they positioned a nicotine aerosol spray inside the device, close to the smoker’s mouth, thus reducing loss.

There was also a series of patents for devices in which tobacco was heated but not burned — for example, in 1993 the guys from Philip Morris registered a device that had a compartment for tobacco or something tobacco-based, which was then heated up. As a result, smokers inhaled vapor instead of regular smoke. The device worked from a battery or an electric capacitor. In 1998, the device finally saw the light — and didn’t spark any public interest. Partly because of its size (it was a box the size of a walkie-talkie), partly because of the circuit’s complexity. The manufacturer suffered huge losses — which, however, didn’t prevent them from releasing a new device 19 years later, which followed in the steps of the old one.

An important milestone was 1994 in Amsterdam, where Eagle Bill Amato, a doctor from Ohio, who promoted the use of marijuana for medical purposes, devised a cannabis vaporizer. In it, the glass tube was heated up from below, which didn’t allow cannabis to be ignited. Eagle Bill called his device a safe alternative to smoking and the peace pipe of the future.

Finally, in the 2000s Hon Lik makes the electronic cigarette. His invention radically differed from all others in its practical manifestation. Hon Lik got two patents: for the idea and the ready-to-use vaporizer. He didn’t just come up with an innovation — he put it into production, launched an advertising campaign, and basically refined the idea at last. The rest you already know.
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