Although the e-cigarette as most people know it has been around for about a decade, its origins go back to the early twentieth century and are intertwined with the modern history of tobacco use.
The Ill Effects of Smoking
Whilst the smoking of tobacco has been around since prehistoric times, the use of cigarettes became widespread during the First World War when many armies issued their soldiers with tobacco rations, creating tobacco addicts in the process who continued their unhealthy habit in the postwar years. The 1920s also saw a wave of feminism in many western countries, and many women took up smoking as a symbol of their freedom and political equality with men. The negative health consequences of tobacco smoking were as yet unknown. During the 1930s, however, German scientists noted the relationship between tobacco smoking and lung cancer and researched the link, publishing one of the earliest and most important articles on the subject in 1940 titled “Krebserzeugende Tabakwirkung”, which translates to “Carcinogenic Effects of Tobacco”. At the time, Nazi Germany had instituted a rigourous anti-tobacco campaign in an effort to improve the general health of the German people. More scientific research emerged after the war including the classic article “Smoking and Carcinoma of the Lung” which was published in the British Medical Journal in 1950.
The Invention of the Smokeless Non-Tobacco Cigarette
The relationship between tobacco smoke and numerous cancers, especially lung cancer, led to the development of a smokeless electronic cigarette which would not have any of the carcinogenic and toxic chemicals that are found in regular cigarettes. The first e-cigarette appeared in 1963 and was developed and patented by Herbert A. Gilbert. The new device was a battery-operated metal tube that contained a harmless liquid that was heated, producing a vapour that the user inhaled. Despite the enormous potential, the invention was never mass produced or marketed, and thus ended the first incarnation of the electronic cigarette.
The Invention of the Modern E-Cigarette
The e-cigarette that most people use and are familiar with is the brainchild of a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik, who came up with the concept of using a piezoelectric ultrasound emitting element to vapourise a liquid containing a propylene glycol and nicotine solution. The vapour was to be inhaled and exhaled in exactly the same way as a normal cigarette. Lik was inspired to develop the electronic cigarette after his father – a heavy smoker – developed lung cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease. In May 2004, the e-cigarette was introduced to the Chinese market by Golden Dragon Holdings, the company for which Lik worked. The device proved very popular in China and began to be exported to other Asian countries during 2005. It was introduced into the European and North American markets in 2006. The e-cigarette has proved to be a hit worldwide with smokers who want a product that helps them quit smoking.