The primitive concept of an electronic cigarette can be traced to an idea by Herbert A. Gilbert, who in 1963 patented a device described as “a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” that involved replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavoured air.
This device heated the nicotine solution and produced steam.
In 1967, Gilbert was approached by several companies interested in manufacturing it, but it was never commercialised and disappeared from the public record after 1967.
Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, is widely credited with the invention of the modern electronic cigarette.
In 2000, he came up with the idea of using a piezo electric ultrasound -emitting element to vaporise a pressurised jet of liquid containing nicotine diluted in a Propylene Glycol solution.
This design produces a smoke-like vapour that can be inhaled and provides a vehicle for nicotine delivery into the bloodstream via the lungs.
He also proposed using Propylene Glycol to dilute nicotine and placing it in a disposable plastic cartridge which serves as a liquid reservoir and mouth piece. These inventions are the basis of the present-day electronic cigarettes.
The device was first introduced to the Chinese domestic market in
May 2004 as an aid for smoking cessation and replacement Therapy.
The company that Hon Lik worked for, Golden Dragon Holdings, changed its name to Ruyan, literally meaning “Resembling smoking”, and started exporting its products in 2005–2006 before receiving its first international patent in 2007.