Text by Steve Kryworuka
The electronic cigarette has in less than a decade become one of the most promising technologies in the field of tobacco harm reduction. From a modest beginning in the mid-2000s, e-cigarette adoption has grown to over 2.5 million users worldwide.
How did the e-cigarette get to where it is today? The road has been rocky, and the industry still faces challenges today from both misguided health groups and the threat of overbearing regulation. We present here a timeline of the electronic cigarette by year to show the path the modest e-cigarette has traced over the last several years.
1963: The First Ever Electronic Cigarette
Think of this as a sort of pre-history of electronic cigarettes. In 1963, a man named Herbert Gilbert patented a device that produced a vapor from tobacco by heat rather than combustion. Despite several tobacco companies taking an interest in the device, it was never commercialized. See A History of the Electronic Cigarette for more details, or an Interview with The Inventor of the E-Cigarette for an interview with Herbert.
1964-1999: Too Safe To Sell
Tobacco companies toyed with cigarettes that did not rely on combustion in the decades following. While some were released commercially by companies like RJ Reynolds, none ever gained traction in the market. Smokers frequently noted these cigarettes had a bad taste, while other solutions were vetoed because developing an electronic cigarette would mean admitting existing cigarettes were dangerous.
1981: First Reference to Vaping
Dr Norman L Jacobson is referenced talking about a two year trial of electronic cigarettes invented by Philip J Ray – and for the first time the word vaping and vapers is used.
In another article, Dr Jacobson expresses confidence that the device would soon be approved- but it appears to quietly disappear.
2000: A Dream
Nearly 40 years after Gilbert’s invention, a man in China had a dream. Hon Lik was a pharmacist who, like many, was a smoker himself. Lik watched his own father die of cancer from his smoking habit. In 2000, Hon Lik had a dream where he was drowning in the sea, when suddenly the sea turned into vapor.
The pharmacist set to work to develop a device that delivered nicotine to smokers via vapor instead of combustion.
2004: The First Modern Electronic Cigarette
Hon Lik finally developed a method to turn a nicotine solution into a vapor through the use of a piezo-electric circuit. His company, Golden Dragon Holdings filed for a patent and changed its name to Ruyan, meaning “resembling smoking.” Later that year, the devices went on the market in China.
2005 – 2006: Electronic Cigarettes Reach the West
In 2005, Ruyan began exporting its products throughout Europe. Exports to the United States followed the next year in 2006. The initial market was small, with most seeing the devices as a novelty item.
2007: Slow Progress
e-Cigarettes continued to wallow in obscurity. Some indications show that the FDA became aware of the electronic cigarette around this time, but did not take any action against the devices.
2008: The Battle Commences
This is the year things began to change for the humble e-cigarette. More companies began to introduce electronic cigarettes throughout Europe and America. The design also changed. Dr. Yunqiang Xiu is credited by some for inventing the modern electronic cigarette which used a heating element instead of a piezo element to produce vapor.
2008 is also the year forces working against the electronic cigarette began to rear up. The World Health Organization released a report stating there was not enough research to prove any safety or efficacy claims and further demanded sellers stop claiming any WHO approval in their marketing materials.
The FDA also sprang into action and declared the electronic cigarette an unapproved medical device. The agency began seizing shipments of e-cigarettes from China upon arrival at US Customs, setting the stage for the first major battle for e-cigarette availability.
Sottera, the parent company of e-cigarette brand Smoking Everywhere filed suit in US Federal Court against the FDA. The suit sought relief in the form of an injunction to stop the shipment seizures.
The company, later joined by another e-cigarette company won an injunction against the FDA. The FDA then promptly turned around and released its now-infamous advisory press release claiming harmful ingredients in e-cigarette cartridges including diethylene glycol and carcinogens.
On the heels of the FDA’s announcement, several nations either banned e-cigarettes outright or banned e-cigarettes that included nicotine. Among them were Canada, Australia, Panama, Israel, Jordan, and Brazil. Suffolk County, NY holds the dubious distinction of being the first US location to enact an indoor e-cigarette use ban.
2010: Bans, Restrictions – and Vapemeets
Thailand and Singapore followed the other nations in banning e-cigarettes. Meanwhile, the FDA first won an appeal against the injunction and then ultimately lost the case at the US Court of Appeals. The FDA declined to pursue the case to the Supreme Court.
The United States Air Force declared electronic cigarettes to be a tobacco product. The devices were included in the USAF’s broad smoking restrictions as a result.
On a happier note, both the UK and the US saw their first large regional vape meets where vapers from all around met up to meet one another and swap war stories and tips.
2011: Scientists Get Behind The Electronic Cigarette
This was the year that the electronic cigarette saw research that backed up what vapers had been saying for several years about the device’s potential to get people off of cigarettes. Many researchers made themselves available for interview, which we have now published in a ebook.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Ricardo Polosa, BMC and Addiction all released studies showing the e-cigarette’s promise.
Licking its wounds from its defeat in court, the FDA announced it would seek to regulate electronic cigarettes under the existing tobacco regulatory framework. The US Department of Transportation also announced it will release rules clarifying e-cigarette restrictions on airlines (no such rule ever came to fruition.)
The controversial US trade group TVECA formed to serve as a lobbying arm for its member e-cigarette companies. In the UK, the Nudge Unit released its statement supporting the idea of harm reduction through electronic cigarettes.
Also in 2011, Argentina and Holland added themselves to the countries that ban e-cigarettes list.
2012: An Eventful Year
To say 2012 was a big year for vaping is an understatement. There were a number of studies that came out surrounding the e-cigarette including the groundbreaking study by Dr. Farsallinos. An amazing array of new products hit the market as well.
Electronic cigarettes also became the darling of the convenience store industry with several high-profile stories emerging from analysis of the market and the future of traditional tobacco. e-Cigrettes have been compared to the energy drink market in its early days.
2012 might be more remembered for its more somber trappings, however. This was the year that the WHO decided to go after e-cigarettes not because they believed the devices themselves posed great harm, but because the appearance of the e-cigarette, the very thing that made it successful, threatens efforts to make smoking look not cool.
As goes the WHO, so do the prohibitionists. There seemed to be a new energy in the attacks opponents of the devices made. Most notably, the EU forwarded its Tobacco Products Directive to member nations for review even after the original architect of the legislation quit under suspicion of corruption. This legislation wouldn’t become law in Europe for another three years, giving proponents time to attempt to lobby to remove the overbearing restrictions.
Finally, in the US, the FDA held hearings on novel applications for smoking cessation. The hearing was intended for drug companies and their proxies to pitch for extended use of NRTs. However, the proceedings were essentially conscripted by harm reduction advocates, and later by everyday consumers through the online comment period following the hearing.
2013: A Battle with the EU
The year has just started, but already things have been active. The FDA announced in its annual planning document its intention to make its move to regulate electronic cigarettes by the end of April. Stories about electronic cigarettes both positive and negative seem to be featured in major media outlets several times per week.
Meanwhile, here in the EU the Tobacco Directives prepares to enter the EU parliament. A concerted campaign against the EU is now underway, with hundreds of vapers write to their MEPs – responses vary from incredibly supportive to uninformed and undecided.
What will the future hold? Nobody knows for sure, but we did ask some notable figures in the e-cigarette community for their predictions for 2013. Check them out here!
Also see: A History of the Electronic Cigarette
Detailed timeline of events by the Consumer Advocates for Smokeless Alternatives Association (CASAA)