Vaping & E-Liquid – The Complete Exciting History Guide – 2023 Edition

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It’s quite a common sight to see now when you’re out and about seeing people holding or using an e-cigarette, as well as seeing a lot more vape shops popping up as well as most supermarkets, corner shops and other outlets now selling E-Cigarettes and E-Liquid. But what some people do not realise is that E-Cigarettes and E-Liquid have been prevalent in society for a lot longer than they may realise. And the common question that is asked by people is “How long has vaping been around?”

The first E-Cigarette was actually referenced way back in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until over 7 decades later that the first hard version of an E-Cigarette was designed and floated out on to the market for people to try and use. And since it’s first inception, technology has evolved as has awareness of the benefits of using them and more people are now opting to use E-Cigarettes as their method of Nicotine Replacement Therapy to quit smoking, and then continuing to vape once they have successfully quit smoking.

In this blog, we are going to go on a time travelling journey all the way back to the 1930s where the first discussion of E-Cigarettes was had, stopping off at all other significant points for vaping reaching right up to current day and where the use of E-Cigarettes and E-Liquid stands today. Let’s get into it!

The first documented reference to Electronic Cigarettes

As I mentioned above, the idea of E-Cigarettes has been around considerably longer than what some people may expect, and the first ever discussion of them was in 1927 where an American inventor put forward his idea as well as illustration for the concept of an “Electronic Cigarette”

Joseph Robinson, an inventor based in the USA, filed a patent design in 1927 for an Electronic Cigarette and this patent was then granted in 1930 after a few years of deliberation. The patent that was submitted provided a detailed insight into how this device would work, and the benefits people would reap from using such a device, and it also featured a very detailed annotated drawing of each component that would be used in an E-Cigarette, which I’ve added in below

blueprint for e-cig

As you can see in the picture above, it features all necessary components needed to make an e-cigarette function properly, including an atomiser, a chamber for the e-liquid to be put into as well as a battery to power the device. It absolutely blows my mind that something so complex was designed and patented back in 1930 when technology was a mere fraction to what it is today. But sadly, despite Joseph Robinsons detailed annotation and ideas, nothing came of this and it’s not even known if a prototype of this device was even created as there’s no proof of it anywhere to be found.

30 years later and the first ever Vape is created

The years passed by since Robinson’s patent was first filed, and in the 1960s a man created the first physical version of an E-Cigarette. Herbert Gilbert is a name you will know if you know your history of E-Cigs as this is the man that is generally credited for creating the first device that closely resembled an E-Cigarette as shown in the blueprint plans some 30 years prior.

He filed for a patent in 1963 and it was approved in 1965 for the design and production of “inhaling appliances shaped like cigars, cigarettes and pipes” and the difference from the patent filed previously was that prototypes were actually created and it’s widely believed that some of these may have not actually even contained nicotine.

But even though it reached a much more progressed stage than previous, it never actually was commercialized and Herbert Gilbert put this down to some companies who may have commercialized it would rather wait for the patent to expire than license it instead so they could make their own versions and release them but it’s also unclear whether or not it would have even had commercial potential at the time of this happening. On top of this, the warehouse where Gilbert had his prototypes stored burnt down, destroying everything in the process so progress was stunted after gaining so much traction.

The 1990-2000s sees some progress made

As the years progressed, so did the progress on E-Cigarettes with several different devices made but marketed as “nicotine inhalers” with many relying on evaporation rather than vapourising like what the E-Cigs do today.

What is interesting is that in the 1990s, Reynolds Tobacco created a device that was marketed as a “heat-not-burn” device, which reappeared in the market some 3 decades later and is currently quite popular in some countries, specifically Asian countries like Japan and China.

And at some point in the 1990s, estimated to be around 1998 time, an unnamed major US tobacco company did request permission from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to bring a device to market, however it was refused as the FDA would not approve of this due to it being a “drug delivery device.”

The FDA at this point did not regulate tobacco products like what they do today, but did regulate drug delivery devices, so it’s a bit curious as to why they wouldn’t approve this when it was what they were specifically doing at the time.

And it was at this point that E-Cigarettes and all things alike would disappear from existence for many years, until the emergence of someone who bought something that was considered an absolute revolution…

The Godfather of Vaping makes his presence known

Now if you know anything to do with the history of vaping, you definitely know who I’m talking about here when I mention the Godfather of Vaping, and the person I’m talking about if you didn’t know is Hon Lik. To put it bluntly, if it wasn’t for Hon Lik, there’s a strong chance E-Cigarettes wouldn’t be where they are today and the vaping industry as we know it today could potentially be very different.

Born in 1951 in China, Hon Lik went on to become a Pharmacist, Smoker and ultimately an Inventor. Taking the project on in 2001, Hon Lik started work on a device that would delivery Nicotine to the user without the need to smoke cigarettes.

He was inspired to create something after watching his father suffer from many years from Lung Cancer, bought on by smoking which ultimately led to his death. And Hon Lik wanted to create something to try and combat more people from contracting this deadly disease, and stopping people having to suffer watching their beloved succumb to it like what Hon had to with his father.

He first created the project in 2001, using food additives as solvents to vapourise via ultrasound but the droplets that formed were too large and the vapour was too reminiscent of cigarette smoke. The years passed and Hon Lik refined the idea with a smaller heating element being used and the first design was patented in China in 2003.

In 2004, the first E-Cigarettes hit the market being made by Hon’s company called Ruyan (which means ‘like smoke’) and this is where the wheels really started rolling for Vaping.

In 2005, Ruyan began exporting E-Cigarettes out of China, and in 2006 they hit the European markets before hitting the USA markets in 2007 and this was basically lift off for E-Cigarettes as we know it today!


Cig-A-Likes – The First Generation

The first E-Cigarette that was invented by Hon Lik was what is known as a “Cig-A-Like” and believe it or not, these are still around to this day and used by people, so they really have stood the test of time considering it’s nearly 20 years ago that these first made an appearance on the market.

Cig-A-Like e-cigarettes are exactly what they say on the tin, or packaging, they’re designed to look just like a normal cigarette, just without the toxins and chemicals that come with a cigarette. They come as an all in one unit, with a small battery inside, and a prefilled cartridge that contains e-liquid.

There wasn’t much variety and options for flavours or nicotine strengths back then like there is today, so it was a simple tobacco or menthol flavour, and a high nicotine content.

Being a heavy smoker himself, Hon Lik understood the need for a high nicotine content to be included in these Cig-A-Likes so it was quite strong and harsh as the quality hadn’t quite been perfected like what e-liquid is today.

The second generation of E-Cigarettes begins

As the years passed from the Cig-A-Like first coming out on to the market, technology also advanced and the second generation of Vaping devices was created and began further revolutionising Vaping. “Vape Pen” style devices started being invented and distributed to the market en-masse.

These devices were different from the previously popular Cig-A-Likes as these featured the capability of being filled with whatever e-liquid the consumer wanted to use, rather than being stuck with just a flavour and strength that they may not like or enjoy.

These devices featured a rechargeable battery used to power the device, and also a “Clearomizer” which screwed onto the battery. This is what is filled up with e-liquid and also featured the first cotton wick design which the e-liquid soaked into a was heated up from the battery power to create vapour and deliver nicotine to the user.

These became huge in America, with ProVape being the first big name to market and distribute them. They also created a “premium” range of Vape Pens by ProVari which featured a superior battery life and function, and it came with a superior price tag as well! From what I can see, these used to be retailed at a whopping $200 a piece!

That’s £170 in GBP give or take a few pounds or pence, which when you think that this was in 2010 it was ALOT of money to be forking out on an E-Cigarette! But regardless of the superior battery life and design, it lacked the power to match the price tag which ultimately led to it’s demise.

Hangsen E-Liquid

Hangsen are the E-Liquid OG’s

Straying away from the history of E-Cigarettes, I’m now going to touch on the subject of the history of E-Liquid as I said I would detail this also as well as E-Cigarettes at the start of this article. And you simply cannot discuss the history of E-Liquid without discussing the OG’s of E-Liquid flavours, and that being Hangsen.

When E-Liquid’s first came onto the market, it was merely a plain tobacco flavour or a menthol flavour e-liquid and that was it. No fancy flavours like what there is today, but it was primarily down to Hangsen who took the helm to create e-liquid flavours that broke away from the norm and gave people more options to fill up their E-Cigarette with.

It’s widely reported that the CEO of Hangsen actually created one of the first e-liquid recipes back in 2004, not long after the first Cig-A-Like was launched, but they kept it to themselves before fully launching their range of E-Liquid a few years later in 2008. I weren’t lying when I said they are the OGs!

They started out by creating different flavours of Tobacco rather than a bog standard flavour what was previously available, and from what I understand, they were one of the first creators of RY4, a caramel/sweet tobacco flavour that is still hugely popular amongst tobacco vape juice connoisseurs today. And as of today, they create and market over 300 different flavours of E-Liquid which is pretty impressive!

Flavoured e-liquid wasn’t the only thing to come out of this either, as the creation of varying nicotine levels of e-liquid was also created giving people even more options, let’s look at this in more detail.

Varying Nicotine content in E-Liquid becomes an option

High nicotine content was the only option when it came to using E-Liquid refills or Cig-A-Likes as it was presumed everyone was heavy smokers and therefore would need to be using a high nicotine content E-Liquid to help them quit smoking.

But this wasn’t necessarily the case for all people, much like it isn’t today either. So people who were only light smokers wouldn’t be able to benefit from using such devices as the nicotine content would be far too high for them to use and likely be really harsh on their throat which wouldn’t be pleasurable.

And with the creation and options of different flavours being slowly trickled into the market, the option to choose a Nicotine strength more suited was also then made available to people wanting to try out E-Cigarettes and E-Liquid to see what all the fuss was about.

Lower nicotine levels such as 12mg and 6mg were made and marketed, as well as stronger levels also like 24mg or even higher as there was previously no restrictions on the nicotine content in e-liquid like what there is today (I’ll talk about TPD Legislations a little further into this article) and some brands also marketed “in between” strengths such as 11mg, 15mg and 19mg for example.

Creating these varying nicotine options opened the door to more people being able to try out E-Cigarettes and see if it was for them, and the popularity and usage of E-Cigarettes began seeing a rise that previously had not been seen before.

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The Third Generation of E-Cigarettes comes round

The years pass by since the second generation of E-Cigarettes came to market, and during these years, technology advanced further and thus created the ‘third generation’ of E-Cigarettes commonly known as “Vape Mods”

These devices featured a major jump in technology, by having an internal chip to make them more powerful as well as some of them having the capability of altering the wattage or power settings, something that had previously not been seen on an E-Cigarette before.

With all of this technology and internal chips being included in E-Cigarettes, it meant that the size of the devices had grown significantly also, with most of them being made in a box shape, where the name “Box Mod” comes from. And these also featured the use of coils, another thing which had previously not been seen before.

These higher powered devices couldn’t use the traditional nicotine vape juice which was commonly associated with Vape Pens, and instead needed to use a thicker e-liquid which meant a higher VG content was needed to make it thicker so it would absorb into the coils rather than leaking through them.

Vape69 100ml Shortfill Vape Juice Range

With the demand increasing hugely for these higher powered Box Mods, the demand for e-liquid that is suitable for these devices grew in sync. More manufacturers entered onto the market offering “High VG E-Liquid” and this also saw the flavour options become somewhat abundant and many brands who still exist and hold a large holding in the vape juice game today first entered onto the market.

Larger bottles of High VG E-Liquid started being distributed with people able to buy 60ml. 100ml, and even 150ml of premium High VG E-Liquid in varying different flavour combinations, as well as different nicotine strengths also.

With higher powered devices though, a lower nicotine content is always recommended to be used as using a high nicotine content e-liquid in a high powered device could likely lead to some adverse side effects like nausea and headaches. Either a 3mg or 6mg Nicotine content was the most commonly marketed strengths for people to buy.

However, larger bottles containing nicotine were relatively short lived, only being on the market for around 2 years (approx.) before the introduction of regulations which caused a bit of a shockwave to the vaping industry, and users of E-Cigarettes. Let me explain this in more detail

The Tobacco Products Directive

The Tobacco Products Directive landed on May 20th 2016 and drastically changed the vaping landscape in the EU from what it previously was. And this wasn’t exactly met with open arms or a welcome response from the vaping industry and vapers alike. With the introduction of these regulations, it now meant that everything to do with vaping must be “TPD Compliant” going forward.

But what does TPD Compliant mean exactly? Let me explain!

Vape Tanks

The maximum capacity for a vape tank, disposable cigarette cartridge, or a disposable electronic cigarette (remember that term, as it’s going to come back up soon) must not exceed more than 2ml in capacity.

This was a really big shake up for the vaping world, as tanks had previously been available to buy with a massive 5ml or more e-liquid capacity, with some behemoth tanks holding up to 10ml of vape juice, crazy! This meant people would have to carry around additional bottles of e-liquid to top up rather than filling up before they left the house to see them through.

As with most regulations imposed, there was a loophole found by some vaping product manufacturers, as they created “tank extensions” meaning things like fishbowl glasses or taller glasses could be put on a vape tank which increased the vape juice capacity to larger than 5ml. These were sold seperately from the tank itself to keep in line with the regulations…a crafty move I think you’ll agree!

E-Liquid Nicotine Strength

Restrict e-liquids to a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml

As previously mentioned in this article, Nicotine strengths in E-Liquid used to go up to 24mg which is some serious strength E-Liquid, but with the regulations imposed under TPD, the highest nicotine content allowed to be marketed was 20mg and no higher.

This did cause some upset amongst vapers as some were users of 24mg Nicotine E-Liquid and had not yet tapered their strength down so were left with no choice but to drop their nicotine strength regardless if they were ready to or not. However, 20mg nicotine strength resonated well with a specific type of E-Liquid that grew massively in popularity, which I’m covering at the next part of this article so all was not lost.

E-Liquid Bottle Sizes

Restrict the maximum volume of nicotine-containing e-liquid for sale in one refill container to 10ml

The final big change that was implemented was that the size of E-Liquid bottles that contained nicotine were heavily reduced in size too. The maximum bottle size for E-Liquid that contained nicotine must not be larger than 10ml, which is a fraction of what was previously allowed to be sold.

This is probably what caused the most uproar within the vaping community as it meant the bottles shrunk but the prices didn’t match up, with people paying £4 for 10ml of High VG nicotine containing e-liquid, when they previously used to be able to pay £10 for 60ml of nicotine containing E-Liquid.

And yet again, another loophole was found with this, as manufacturers still made and sold large bottles of E-Liquid, just without the nicotine added in, instead selling nicotine shots as a separate addition which people could purchase and add in to their E-Liquid to reach their desired nicotine strength. Another clever move!

Vape Device with refillable pods

The Fourth Generation of Vaping begins but it brings trouble for the Vaping Industry

And so we reach the fourth generation of vaping devices, and the inception and release of….The Pod System!

Scaling it back and away from the big cloud machines that are Box Mods, manufacturers saw the demand for something smaller and pocket sized, and in turn Pod Systems started being designed and released onto the market to a very warm reception from current vapers looking to downsize and new vapers alike.

Pod Systems featured variable wattage still, much like box mods, but instead were a fraction of the size and instead of separate tanks being put on top of the device, these featured a pod which sat within the device itself and was filled with e-liquid and had the coil inside as well.

These devices became popular as they were small and discreet and didn’t give off massive clouds of vapour like what Box Mods are capable of and people enjoyed using these Pod Systems for this reason. However, refillable pod systems weren’t the only thing to come out, as prefilled pod systems suddenly came out of nowhere thanks to one specific manufacturer, and sadly, this is where the problems really began to increase for the vaping industry…

juul altria banner

Enter JUUL on to the market

Now, the history of JUUL is quite an extensive and elaborate one, with many different twists and turns in it, which I won’t document everything here, but for the sake of this article, I’ll pick out the key parts along the JUUL timeline that are relevant and significant.

JUUL is the brand name of a “closed pod system” meaning that the device was a battery and small pods were clicked into the battery to make the device complete. These pods were prefilled with E-Liquid and contained the coil and wick as well, and were entirely closed off meaning they were not able to be refilled.

What set these devices apart from others is that the e-liquid that was used in the prefilled pods was Nicotine Salt E-Liquid. This hadn’t really been seen before, and was considered “revolutionary” by some vaping fanatics. In the UK, these highest nicotine content available was 20mg to keep in line with TPD, but in America where there are no regulations, Pods were being marketed at a whopping 50mg nicotine strength, and this is where the problems began to rise.

By the end of 2017, JUUL was the single largest selling E-Cigarette in the USA and dominated with an insane 72% of the market share as of September 2018 which is just crazy to think really. But with this dominance came trouble, as JUUL’s very questionable marketing tactics of promoting their devices at a younger audience was met with heavy scrutiny and for good reasons.

The USA slipped into somewhat of a youth vaping “epidemic” with high volumes of high school students, not of legal smoking/vaping age, were using JUUL Pod Systems and the 50mg nicotine pods, and getting hooked on them. Meaning there was a whole generation of teens with a very severe nicotine addiction and dependency at a very young age.

JUUL have suffered the consequences from this, by having to pay out billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements to various States in the USA, and most recently, Altria has even exited the JUUL group by swapping its minority stake for other investments. But if one positive did come out of JUUL, it’s the inception and awareness of just how good Nicoti ne Salt E-Liquid is, let’s discuss this more shall we?

Nicotine Salt E-Liquid takes the throne

Nicotine Salt E-Liquid has fast become a very popular option for vapers to use instead of the more traditional “Freebase Nicotine” E-Liquid for a multitude of reasons.

When Nicotine Salt is made, it’s the nicotine derived directly from a tobacco leaf, and extracted then mixed with a weak acid, commonly Benzoic Acid, and this then neutralises the pH levels of the Nicotine, meaning a higher nicotine content E-Liquid can be vaped without it being too harsh, which is what a lot of people enjoy using it for.

Commonly marketed in 10mg or 20mg nicotine strengths, Nicotine Salt vape juice is also a lot more flavoursome than standard Freebase Nicotine, as the Benzoic acid used within it enhances the flavour concentrates used, and brings out a fuller and richer taste which many users of E-Cigarettes enjoy, myself included!

Nicotine Salts also absorb quicker into the blood stream, in a time frame reminiscent of what the nicotine from smoking a cigarette does, so this helps people who are wanting to quit smoking as it’s a like for like switch, and keeps the nicotine cravings at bay.

Whilst JUUL was the first “Disposable” pod system to feature the use of Nicotine Salts within it, there’s something that uses Nic Salts that are hugely popular on today’s market, and funnily enough, causing a bit of a headache for the vaping industry due to the popularity amongst underage users…can you guess what I could possibly be talking about?!

Disposable E-cigarettes On White Isolated Background

Disposable Vapes

Saving the best until last? Well, I wouldn’t say the best, but it certainly is the last part of this Vaping History lesson, and coincidentally, ties up how my theory of Vaping going full circle in only a matter of years and that is down to the introduction and huge surge in popularity of Disposable Vape devices.

When I say full circle, I mean that the first ever vaping device that entered onto the market was essentially a Disposable vaping device, and now here we are, 20 years later, with Disposable vaping devices being the current trend and most popular used vaping device on the market today. Whilst the concept of them remain the same, the difference between a 2023 Disposable to a 2003 Disposable is significantly different to say the least.

Disposables as we know them today differ from the ones seen in years previous differ quite a lot, based on the fact they use Nicotine Salt E-Liquid, plus the sheer volume of different flavours available today trumps the meagre two flavours of just tobacco and menthol that Cigalike disposables featured. But this is where the problems lie, is the flavours of these devices being hugely appealing to youths and younger people not of legal vaping/smoking age.

JUUL came under fire due to creating flavoured pods that are appealing to a younger demographic and this is now applying to manufacturers of Disposable Vapes as well, most notably Elfbar, as the flavours seen in Disposables sound very very appealing to a younger audience. I mean who wouldn’t want to vape Cotton Candy Ice or Blue Raspberry Bubble-gum!?

In a similar vein to JUUL, Elfbar also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons as in February 2023, it was discovered that Elfbar Disposable Vapes were being sold at UK retail which contained nearly DOUBLE the legal limit of vape juice that is allowed. This caused huge ripples within the vaping industry and has seen Elfbar Disposable Vapes removed from sale from all major UK Supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Morrisons, with a resolution yet to be found and them put back on sale.

Disposable Vapes have become hugely popular amongst vapers, but sadly not just “adult vapers” as the usage amongst youths have seen a stark increase which is causing huge cause for concern. And also, they are not a sustainable way to vape, due to them not being able to be recycled down to the lithium battery contained inside them.

They instead have to be put in general waste and it’s reported over a million of used Disposables are going into landfill every single month which is just shocking numbers.

There’s been calls for these devices to be banned as a way to combat the youth vaping problems as well as the environmental problems and I can’t help but feel it will only be a matter of time before some harsh restrictions are imposed on these devices to solve the ever rising issues.


And now we reach the conclusion of this history lesson about Vaping and E-Liquid! I really hope this article has provided you with a true detailed insight into the history of Vaping and E-Cigarettes.

The history surrounding Vaping is certainly a long and extensive one, and how far it has come from the first inception in the 1930’s to modern day is astounding, and with technology consistently advancing at a much more rapid pace than what it previously was, I think that Vaping will continue to advance to a stronger position, especially now with more people choosing to use E-Cigarettes and E-Liquid by quitting smoking.

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