Vaping, the use of personal vaporizers or electronic cigarettes, is a relatively new phenomenon. Total sales in the U.S. are projected to be over $1.7 billion by the end of 2014. Thought that’s still a small percentage of what traditional tobacco cigarette sales generate, around $94 billion. But tobacco’s sales have been in a steady decline for decades and vaping revenues continue to explode.
Most people trace contemporary vaping to 2003 and Chinese pharmacist Han Lik. He was a heavy smoker and his father had recently died of lung cancer when he began to develop a safer means of delivering nicotine. Han Lik worked for Golden Dragon Holdings and the company fully supported the development of the product, going so far as to eventually changing the name of the company to Ruyan, which means “like smoke.”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Seeing how Han Lik’s main purpose was to develop a safer and healthier alternative to smoking, we need to take at least a cursory look at tobacco. Tobacco is a member of Soanaceae, the potato family, and is closely related to potatoes, tomatoes, paprika, chili peppers, eggplant, petunias and deadly nightshade, which all contain measurable amounts of nicotine.
Tobacco is native to both North and South America and Native Americans may have used it, mainly smoking it in pipes, for medicinal and ceremonial purposes as early as 5,000 BC. Christopher Columbus took a small amount of tobacco leaves and seeds back to Europe after his first trip to the new world in 1492. It would be another 150 years or so before tobacco came into widespread use in Europe, though it was introduced in France in 1556, Portugal in 1558, Spain in 1559 and England in 1565. John Rolfe, an Englishman living in Virginia, first cultivated tobacco in 1612.
For nearly 200 years tobacco’s use was limited mainly to pipes, chewing and snuff. Cigars started gaining popularity in the late 1800s. Crude cigarettes had been in limited use since the early 1600s, but they became more widespread with the introduction of “Bright” tobacco, a cured yellow leaf from North Carolina and Virginia after the Civil War. The late 1880s saw cigarette sales surge with the development of “White Burley”tobacco and the first practical cigarette-making machine.
By the 1960s the health hazards of smoking tobacco cigarettes were widely established and the cigarette industry was coming under increasing criticism, legislation and regulations. In 1988, RJ Reynolds tobacco introduced the ill-fated Premier brand of “smokeless” cigarettes. The Premier had a charcoal tip that, when lit, heated and aerosolized the tobacco. The brand never caught on and cost RJ Reynolds over $325 million to develop and was the focus of the 1993 HBO film Barbarians At The Gate starring James Garner. Reynolds tried to reintroduce the brand under the name Eclipse in 2000.
In 1963, Herbert A. Gilbert, a veteran of the Korean War with a BA in business, was working at his father’s scrap yard in Beaver Falls, PA when he came up with the idea for the first electronic cigarette. Gilbert’s design called for a battery-operated heat source that would turn flavored water into steam that could be inhaled. He filed a patent for his “Smokeless Non-tobacco Cigarette” on April 17, 1965. He shopped his invention around to tobacco, pharmaceutical and chemical companies, but found no takers. His prototypes were destroyed in a fire at the warehouse at the Beaver Falls scrap yard where he had stored them.
Nearly 40 years later, in 2001, Stephane Vlachos designed his own prototype electronic cigarette. But Vlachos never patented his idea and gave up on plans to manufacture it when Han Lik’s version went to market in 2003. In April of 2006 electronic cigarettes were introduced to Europe. Over the course of the next few months they entered the U.S. market. In March of 2009 the U.S. FDA added electronic cigarettes to a list of forbidden products and had U.S. Customs and Border Protection reject e-cigarettes from import into the U.S. This move began a series of lawsuits, injunctions and rulings. A federal judge ruled against the FDA and ordered them to stop blocking the imports in January 2010.
Since then the vaping industry in the U.S. and around the world has experienced explosive growth. But controversy continues. Many nations have severely regulated and/or enacted outright bans on the sale of vaping devices. Public health organizations have used fear tactics, stated opinion as fact and misrepresented studies in a continuing effort to restrict the availability and spread of vaping devices and ejuice.
But the vaping community isn’t in the the fight alone. Scientists, researchers at public and private universities and companies and even some governmental agencies continue to warn against prematurely limiting the growth of vaping, especially in light of so many studies that show that vaping is exponentially safer and healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes.
And, as many of us vapers know, vaping is the most effective method to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. Though no “official” organization, private or governmental, has published that opinion. But we know, and for now, that sustains us.
Embrace the vape.