When were vapes and e-cigarettes invented and when did they come to the UK?

Vapes were first invented much earlier than many may realise

Mitchell Baker who works at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, BristolMitchell Baker who works at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, Bristol
Mitchell Baker who works at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, Bristol

Vaping is becoming more and more common in the UK - particularly among young people. But has anyone stopped and asked how it all began?

Vapes - or e-cigarettes - are devices that simulate the smoking of tobacco. A battery is used to heat a tank filled with liquid that is primarily made of propylene glycol or glycerin with nicotine and flavourings.

Health concerns around the long-term impacts of vaping are still present as there is a lack of available evidence. After all, it took more than 200 years for scientists to start realising how detrimental smoking was for our health.

In light of vaping being a mainstay in the current news agenda - whether it be for rumoured use in the NHS to stop smoking or people urging the FDA to investigate it further - NationalWorld takes a look at when vaping was first invented and how they landed on the UK market.

Vapes on the UK marketVapes on the UK market
Vapes on the UK market

History and Invention

The first mention of an electronic cigarette goes much further back in history than many may realise.

The first reference to one was a patent granted to Joseph Robinson in 1930. The product was never commercialised and there's no evidence of a prototype even being made.

Information from the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) - a nonprofit organisation - reads that vapes as we know them today can be credited to Herbert A. Gilbert who produced the first device that resembles what vapes look like today.

Prototypes were built but the product was once again never commercialised.

Herbert A. Gilbert's designs for a vapeHerbert A. Gilbert's designs for a vape
Herbert A. Gilbert's designs for a vape


Fast forward to the late 1970s and in 1970 Phil Ray - a computer pioneer - and his personal physician developed a commercialised e-cigarette that was available to buy but short-lived.

The product relied on the evaporation of nicotine so wasn't exactly electronic either. While the product didn't live up to expectations, this is where the term 'vape' first appears

In the 1990s, things pushed on and we begin to see more prototypes but few that resemble the vapes of today.

In the US, a company tried to get the FDA to approve an e-cigarette that delivered nicotine directly but this wasn't approved.

The 2000s onwards

Come 2003, things changed drastically. Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, developed an e-cigarette device that administered nicotine without the toxins in tobacco smoke.

After success in the Chinese market, these wre then filtered out to other countries and first were introduced in the UK in 2005.

In 2008, the World Health Organisation ruled that e-cigarettes should not be marketed as an aid to stop smoking, but little was said on their positive or negative impacts.

Today, it is estimated that more than 3 million people use vapes in the UK.

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