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The History of E-Cigarettes

There are currently 45 million smokers in the USA and 2.7 million vapers – with sales of e-liquids increasing by one million consumers between 2014 -15 this number looks like it will only increase as vaping technology becomes more advanced. Now a multi-million-dollar industry, vaping seemingly popped up overnight but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, the history of e-cigarettes is a fascinating one. Interestingly, it has developed as attitudes to smoking have changed.

The first reference to electronic cigarettes came all the way back in 1963 when Herbert A Gilbert filed a patent for an electronic smoking device. He was well ahead of his time and something of a maverick in the Woodstock era. Not only did he come up with a truly revolutionary concept, he did it to combat the dangers of tobacco. It’s fair to say that attitudes to tobacco were lenient in the early 60s, with record numbers of smokers and none of the smoking bans or restrictions on lighting up in public spaces that are commonplace today. Not only were smokers not interested in a healthier way to enjoy their favorite vice, but the technology to even envisage an alternate method was seriously lacking.


By the 1980s a host of patents, similar to Gilberts’ original vision, had been filed. The most notable of these was for a new device invented by J Phillip Ray. His design was approximately the size of a normal cigarette and delivered nicotine vapor. Dr. Norman L Jacobson took an interest in this product and showed that users whom he called ‘Vapers’ could get the same levels of nicotine as they were used to with traditional cigarettes, without receiving the harmful tar and carbon monoxide. Dr. Norman not only coined the term vaper, but his studies also proved vaping to be a viable and safer alternative to cigarettes for the first time.

The next major development came in 2003 when the e-cigarette as we know it today was finally born. It was invented by Chinese pharmacist and smoker Hon Lik. He was a 60 a day smoker who had tried many different methods to quit his habit, including nicotine patches and multiple Chinese remedies. At the time of his breakthrough, Lik’s father was suffering from lung cancer. According to Lik, this seemingly random series of events culminated in a dream that inspired the e-cigarettes we know today.


On the night of his inspirational dream, Lil recalls struggling to get to sleep because of breathing difficulties. When he did eventually nod off, he dreamt that he was drowning and struggling to breathe. As Lil tells it, all of a sudden the water surrounding him turned into vapor and he could breathe again.

Following this prophetic dream, he began working on a number of designs for the device he had imagined. His initial concept used ultrasound technology to create vapor. After this he moved on to resistance heating. He filed his first patent in China in 2003; this design does differ to modern ecigs but Lik had achieved the fulfillment of his dream.


Since 2003, the industry has developed at a frenetic pace and this is in part thanks to the huge community of online enthusiasts who regularly discuss products and modding. Designs for e-cigarettes have become much more efficient and the choice of e-liquid has exploded. The only real question is where can the e-cigarette industry go next?

Michael Grey
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Michael Grey

With a passion to educate through my writings and a passion to help others, I found my place here at Black Note. Being that I am a former smoker who quit smoking because of vaping, I knew I could help others do the same. Working for Black Note is a true blessing. Not only do I help educate vapers on a daily basis through my writings, but I am also enjoying the benefits of working with an amazing team and sharing an authentic tobacco solution with the vaping community.
Michael Grey
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WARNING: Black Note products are not smoking cessation products and have not been tested as such. Black Note products are intended for use by adults of legal smoking age (21 or older in California), and not by children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Black Note products contain nicotine, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Ingestion of the non-vaporized concentrated ingredients can be poisonous. Keep out of reach of children and pets. For immediate advice, contact poison control center: (800) 222-1222