The true history of the electronic cigarette: from the first experiments to today

The true history of the electronic cigarette

Modified on: 24/05/2024


It is quite common for vaping detractors to openly declare that e-cigarettes were invented by tobacco companies to enslave young people to nicotine and induce them to buy traditional cigarettes.

In reality, however, the Big Tobacco Company had absolutely nothing to do with the birth of e-cigs, on the contrary, for years they ignored them or tried to have them banned (and still do so today).

The truth is that e-cigarettes were invented by people who wanted to quit smoking and had the goal of helping smokers stop consuming cigarettes.

Since it was launched on the market, the electronic cigarette has gone through various phases. Now, after almost 20 years of history behind it, vaping is less and less a niche practice and more and more a widespread practice, especially among those who approach it in an attempt to quit smoking. The credit for the growth of the vaping sector, however, lies above all in the changes that transformed the first basic models into efficient and high-performance devices.

In short, the history of this device is quite complex, but very, very fascinating. For this reason, we decided to tell you about it in the following article, without missing the chance to surprise you by talking to you about some of the strangest e-liquid flavors ever!

The first electronic cigarette: an idea (too) ahead of its time

You read the title and you already know that the first e-cigarette was developed in China, right? Wrong!

In fact, the first electronic vaping device was developed in the United States!

Don’t feel deceived: I’ll explain everything in detail now.

In 1963, American Herbert A. Gilbert applied for a patent for his ‘smokeless, tobacco-free cigarette‘, and his application was granted in 1965. This invention worked with nicotine-free liquids, but produced a flavored vapor that would had to replace replace the smoking of blondes.

Gilbert created several prototypes, but there was no real commercial interest in this innovative tool: on the other hand, there was not yet a need to find a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes. The scientific community had just begun to highlight the damage caused by smoking, and public opinion was not yet aware of the harmfulness of tobacco.

No one was seriously concerned about the health risks.

The first electronic cigarette

Furthermore, Gilbert’s invention had technical problems that could not be solved with the technology of the 1960s: it was battery powered, but the rechargeable ones available at the time were very expensive and bulky. Even conventional ones were not a valid alternative, as they could not accumulate a sufficient amount of energy to make the American inventor’s prototypes work.

In short, the first electronic cigarette was really ahead of its time, even too much so! A classic example of the right idea arriving at the wrong time.

This is why Gilbert’s futuristic invention ended up forgotten for 40 years.

Read also: In the presence of which allergies is the use of an electronic cigarette not recommended? Let’s clarify

Ruyan: the brand that brought the electronic cigarette all over the world

We therefore arrive at the Chinese pharmacist who took Gilbert’s idea back into his own hands decades later: Hon Lik.

This man was an avid smoker and, having lost his father to cancer, he decided it was time to kick his cigarette habit. He had previously tried to overcome his addiction with nicotine patches, but, like many other people, he found that these devices were not particularly effective.

For this reason, he began experimenting with a vaporization system, testing various liquids to find one that could replicate the sensation of inhaling tobacco smoke. In the end, he chose propylene glycol, a common non-toxic food additive that still constitutes one of the main ingredients of e-liquids today along with vegetable glycerin.

The first prototype of a vaporizer was quite bulky: the next step had to be to transform it into a practical device that could actually be used by anyone. Luckily for him, Lik had a big advantage over Gilbert: by the early 2000s, cheap, high-capacity lithium batteries were now common, used to power a host of devices such as cell phones and laptops.

This detail made the difference between his invention and that of the American inventor: thanks to the technology available in 2001, the first electronic cigarette was born.

Hon Lik’s patent was filed in 2005, and his invention was marketed by the Golden Dragon company under the brand name Ruyan (which means “smoke-like”). The electronic cigarette was immediately a great success in China and then spread to Europe and the United States.

From the old model to the latest generation e-cigs: how many differences

Nowadays there are electronic cigarette models with the most disparate shapes and functions and vaping liquids have reached a very high level of quality, but in the early days things were different. The debut of the electronic cigarette, in fact, was not the most idyllic since the first generation vape pens had an aromatic yield that was anything but satisfactory. Furthermore, it often happened that drops of liquid ended up in the mouth of the unfortunate vaper on duty.

In short, after an initial curiosity, many people ended up abandoning this new practice and picking up the analog cigarette again. However, since mistakes are learned, manufacturers began to refine devices and create less rudimentary models by introducing new technologies and systems. For example, starting from 2007 we began to see improvements in the system for releasing liquids for electronic cigarettes towards the coils (electrical resistors), such as the cartomizer first and then the clearomizer.

Then, in 2009, David Yunqiang Xiu patented a new vaporization system based on thermal resistance. This method consisted of using an electrical resistance that heated the liquid until it evaporated and was cheaper, more powerful and more versatile, as it allowed the temperature, power and quantity of steam produced to be regulated. Furthermore, it paved the way for the creation of liquids with different flavors, nicotine concentrations and ratios of propylene glycol to vegetable glycerin.

In the second decade of the new millennium, e-cigs began to take on a different appearance from the classic pen-shaped one; this need was due to the addition of new components but the producers took advantage of the situation to pay more attention to aesthetics. It is in this period, coinciding with the birth of the first box mods, that vaping began to take off in Italy.

British vapers Umar and Tariq Sheikh, for example, improved on the basic three-piece design (cartridge, atomizer and battery) by combining the cartridge and atomizer, and creating the first ‘cartomizer’. The mods loved by most of today’s vapers and mentioned previously, however, were born thanks to Matt and Ted Rogers, also English, who developed the first prototype.

Since then, dozens of other improvements have been tested, which have sometimes remained relegated to the role of simple devices for hobbyists, other times, however, have had resounding success and entered the mainstream.

In short, we owe the wide choice we have today between numerous electronic cigarettes suitable for many different types of use to the collective effort of several individuals who, starting from the 1960s, have worked hard to find a less harmful alternative to the evil blondes.

Over the years, the level of customization, but above all of aromatic yield and functioning, has increased considerably; It is no coincidence that modern e-cigs experience fewer and fewer leakage problems, are made with resistant materials, are equipped with smart liquid refilling systems and allow vapers to set various parameters (one above all, wattage) to make each one unique. vaped.

Beyond the devices, vaping products have also changed a lot compared to the beginning: e-cigarette flavours, for example, are increasingly high quality and the choice is now extremely varied (even too much, as we will see later!) .

Electronic cigarettes under accusation: what happened in the USA in 2019

The success of electronic cigarettes has led to their growing popularity which, however, has been strongly questioned due to an important news event that occurred in the United States.

In 2019, an increase in cases of severe pneumonia was reported in people who had used e-cigarettes. And these were not just a few isolated cases. If you remember correctly, in fact (it has also been widely discussed on national networks), in total, in 2019, over 2,800 cases of serious pneumonia and 68 deaths linked to the use of electronic cigarettes were reported.

After these reports, many health authorities in the United States began to warn the population about the potential health consequences of using vaping products and a real wave of panic began regarding e-cigs which it quickly crossed the borders of the USA.

But the truth, over time, emerged and today we can say that the electronic cigarette has been totally exonerated.

In fact, most cases of illness and death have been linked to the use of liquids infused with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These liquids, often sold illegally or homemade, contained a chemical called vitamin E acetate, used to make them thicker and more viscous. The problem is that this molecule, once inhaled, settles in the lungs and compromises their function, causing inflammation, cough, breathing difficulties and infections.

This was the conclusion reached by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) after analyzing fluid samples and lung tissue from affected patients. Therefore, US authorities have recommended not to use vaping products containing THC or vitamin E acetate, and to purchase only legal and certified items from reputable sources.

In short, the moral of the story is: if used with liquids produced according to high quality standards, electronic cigarettes do not constitute a serious health risk and, to date, no deaths can be directly linked to the correct use of these. Devices.

The e-cigs of the future: what we can expect

The use of e-cigs to try to quit smoking is growing dramatically: tens of millions of smokers around the world have achieved the goal of quitting smoking thanks to this tool, and the continuous improvements that have occurred over the years have certainly influenced this trend.

Since the further we go, the faster technology becomes, it is to be expected that the progress we have witnessed so far will be nothing compared to what we will see in the coming years. Undoubtedly, greater attention towards this sector by institutions could further speed up the development of new technologies and new products for vaping. This is what companies in the sector and supporters of e-cigs hope for, also because millions of smokers who could count on increasingly efficient and safe devices would benefit from it.

Read also: Dry hit and electronic cigarette: why it happens and how to avoid the famous ‘blockades’

The strangest e-cigarette liquids in history

The strangest e-cigarette liquids in history

The most experienced vapers know well that there are many different flavors of e-cigarette liquids. There are the classic ones, such as tobacco, mint or fruit, but also the more original and creative ones, such as those with custard, or cream and strawberries or, again, Bayleys (fantastic!).

But over the course of the varied history of the electronic cigarette, other, truly strange and bizarre ones have also been invented.


If you love an American breakfast and can’t do without the smell of fried bacon in the morning, perhaps this liquid is for you. Or maybe not, because, let’s face it clearly, bacon on the plate is one thing, in the vapor of our e-cigs it is another.

In any case, vapers who are more inclined towards experimentation could appreciate this curious taste, perhaps in combination with other aromas capable of attenuating its strong flavour.

It’s unclear whether it was created as a joke or to satisfy the most demanding palates, but it is certainly one of the strangest liquids around.


Another savory liquid that does not leave you indifferent is the one with cheese, or rather, those with cheese. In fact, there are different variations on the market, such as cheddar, mozzarella or parmesan, but they all have in common the fact of being very intense and persistent.

These liquids are only recommended for true cheese lovers, because they could be nauseating for those who do not appreciate this food or, in any case, for those who have a delicate sense of smell. We also don’t recommend vaping them when you’re close to other people: you definitely don’t want to flood their nostrils with the strong aroma of your favorite cheeses, right?


Well yes, there are liquids that try to reproduce the flavor of margherita pizza, with tomato, mozzarella and basil. It is up to the readers to find out if they really succeed in this task. Obviously they don’t come close to real pizza, but they could prove to be a nice surprise for those who taste them. Or, more likely, a total affront to our culinary pride as good Italians!



For movie and TV series lovers, popcorn liquids could be an attractive choice. They taste exactly like these freshly made snacks, with a hint of butter and caramel.


Fantastic, right?

Well, the problem is that, to reproduce the taste of this and other similar foods, diacetyl is sometimes inserted into e-cigarette liquids, a molecule which, if inhaled, causes bronchiolitis obliterans. It is a pathology known, precisely, as popcorn disease, as it was initially identified in workers in the factories that produced this snack who were exposed to diacetyl.

For this reason, this substance has been banned in numerous countries, but there are some manufacturers of vaping liquids who continue to use it. We therefore advise you to be extremely careful if you decide to purchase popcorn e-liquid and to only contact qualified and reliable retailers.


What’s better than a beautiful blonde with friends?

No, not the curvy one, and not even those evil cigarettes with all their harmful substances. I am referring to beer, fresh, thirst-quenching and tasty. A drink so popular that there are those who have thought of creating liquids for electronic cigarettes that reproduce its flavour.

Alcohol e-liquids are nothing new. Previously we mentioned the Bayleys flavour, but there are many other interesting ones that are perfectly suitable for vaping. Beer, however, is an absolute novelty that could make the most traditional vapers turn up their noses. But, who knows, it could represent a happy discovery for those who have had enough of the usual tastes.

In conclusion

We have explained the history of the birth of the electronic cigarette.

As you have read, although the authorship of the first device is usually credited to Hon Lik, there was another inventor who played a fundamental role in the creation of the e-cig: the American Herbert Gilbert.

In any case, as I explained to you, behind the birth of the electronic cigarette there was the desire to create an alternative to cigarettes capable of reducing the damage caused by tobacco smoke. Now that you know this, the next time someone says e-cigs were invented as a result of a Big Tobacco Company conspiracy, you can explain to them why they’re wrong.

And maybe you can end your conversation by having a laugh while you tell him about the strangest liquids ever invented!

If you also use an electronic cigarette, before saying goodbye, I invite you to take a look at our vaping products shop: between e-liquids and vaping flavours, you will find many quality items to enjoy your vaping sessions to the fullest!

We are waiting for you on Terpy.

Take Aways

The e-cigarette was not invented by tobacco companies, but by people who wanted to quit smoking and help others do so.

The first electronic cigarette was designed in 1963 by Herbert A. Gilbert in the United States, but was unsuccessful due to technological problems and lack of commercial interest.

Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, took up Gilbert’s idea and created the first practical electronic cigarette in 2001 using lithium battery technology.

Hon Lik’s patent was filed in 2005 and his invention was marketed by the Golden Dragon company under the brand name Ruyan.

Over the years, the electronic cigarette has undergone many technological evolutions and improvements, becoming increasingly efficient and performing, to the point of becoming a valid alternative to traditional cigarettes.

In 2019, more than 2,800 cases of severe pneumonia and 68 deaths related to e-cigarette use were reported in the United States, but most of these cases were linked to the use of liquids containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and not to the use of traditional electronic cigarettes.

Vitamin E acetate, a chemical used to make vaping liquids thicker and more viscous, has been identified as the main cause of these cases of severe pneumonia, as once inhaled it settles in the lungs and impairs their function .

Health authorities in the United States have recommended not using vaping products containing THC or vitamin E acetate, and to only purchase legal, certified items from reputable sources.

When used with liquids produced to high quality standards, e-cigarettes do not pose a serious health risk and as yet no deaths can be directly linked to the correct use of these devices.

It is important that e-cigarette users only purchase certified products from reliable sources and comply with the recommendations of health authorities to minimize health risks.

The use of electronic cigarettes to quit smoking is constantly growing and continuous technological improvements have positively influenced this trend.

New technologies and new increasingly efficient and safe vaping products could be available in the future, to the benefit of the millions of smokers who could use them to quit smoking.

Questions and answers

Who invented the electronic cigarette?

The electronic cigarette was invented by the Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2001, but the idea of a smokeless and tobacco-free cigarette dates back to 1963, when the American Herbert A. Gilbert patented a similar device.

How have e-cigarettes evolved over time?

Over the years they have become more advanced, offering longer battery life, temperature controls, adjustable wattage, and new materials to improve flavor and coil life. Furthermore, liquids with a wide range of flavors and liquid nicotine levels have been developed to suit individual tastes. Lately, some e-cigarettes offer smart features, such as Bluetooth connection and usage monitoring.

What were the causes of serious pneumonia cases in the USA linked to e-cigarettes?

Most cases of illness and death have been linked to the use of liquids infused with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, containing a chemical called vitamin E acetate, used to make them thicker and more viscous. This molecule, once inhaled, is deposited in the lungs and compromises their function, causing inflammation, cough, breathing difficulties and infections.