Last week I was surprised to discover that the first mentions of vapings appeared to come from the late 70’s/early 80’s (see The Origins of Vaping).
The inventor of that device has since passed away. However, since I wrote that post I’ve been very fortunate to interview the (very charming!) Dr Jacobson who pioneered the use of the term vaping, and who was involved in the trials and production of the first vaping device.
(Thank you to Luc Dussart of UnAirNeuf.org, who put me in contact with Dr Jacobson’s daughter.)
The First Vaping Device – by the Inventor of the Microprocessor
JD: When did you start working on the device? I was trying to work out the dates – it seemed to be around 1979-1978?
NJ: Yes, around that time. That’s a long time ago – 35 years ago.
JD: Did you call it an electronic cigarette?
NJ: No. Let me give you some background. I was a physician, and had a patient by the name of Phil Ray. Phil was the inventor of the idea, he was the genesis of it. He was an incredible guy – he was a true genius by definition of the fact he created new ideas and concepts where other people couldn’t think of new ideas and concepts existing.
And he conceptualized the notion of inhaling the vapor of pure nicotine, the premise and basis for the e-cigarette.
Phil had a very sharp resume. His resume was two sentences. He was accredited with fathering the microprocesser (see this entry on Wikipedia for details), and had managed the Apollo program.
He was a giant.
Anyway, he had this idea, he was a smoker and he was addicted to smoking, and he wondered what would happen if you just inhaled nicotine. Well, first of all pure nicotine was hard to find, it’s a clear odourless liquid in its natural state, so he had this dosage with filter paper and nicotine and he got the same buzz that he had from smoking.
And to confirm the legitimacy and validity of it, my brother, who was a pathologist, and I did some research as we published an abstract in the chest journal in 1979, and it worked.
We were able to document the nicotine levels and the metabolite cotinine in the urine. Indeed at levels a little lower than when we had the same people smoke cigarettes as our controls.
So we ran the tests and the results we had, you’ve already seen those. So we confirmed it, it was quite reliable and reproducible. And at the time we thought gee, isn’t this a quaint way to get nicotine and satisfy cravings because there was ample evidence even at the time that nicotine was very addictive – it’s an opioid, you know, like the other narcotics, like morphine, and it’s probably more addictive than that. (Not everyone agrees – see our post on Nicotine and Addiction.)
One of the main leaders in smoking research was in England, his name was Russell, I think it was Michael Russell, who we met with a few times over there, we went to visit him.
Anyway that was the genesis of the product.
Inhaling Pure Nicotine for the First Time
JD: So the initial design used paper?
NJ: Yes, it was not an electronic device. The paper absorbed liquid nicotine and it was inhaled. Now it sounds like the fellow you interviewed, Herbert Gilbert (inventor of the 1963 electronic cigarette), didn’t use nicotine.
At the time, we did not know whether nicotine was dangerous to the health, because there had really been no studies of isolated nicotine except for the gum that was out at the time, and Russell ran numerous studies on the gum.
But we did know that the other elements in a cigarette were very toxic, including the carcinogens within the tobacco leaf, that were either transported or modified by heat and the smoke. And we knew that carbon monixide probably contributed to Atherosclerosis.
So we sensed that nicotine by itself might be less dangerous that the others.
JD: And there was no combustion involved?
There was no combustion involved. They looked like a cigarette, a piece of plastic, they were shaped like a cigarette, the tip was coloured like a cigarette, they were the colour of a cigarette and within the cigarette was filter paper which was soaked in nicotine. You inhaled it and got a dose of nicotine – no combustion, no smoke.
JD: With electronic cigarettes the vapour comes from the propylene glycol – was there a vapour produced with these?
NJ: No, there was no smoke. You just inhaled pure nicotine because it had low volatility so when you drew air through the nicotine soaked filter paper it would pull the nicotine out of the paper.
JD: So it was very different from the device invented by Hon Lik!
NJ: It’s definitely a different device. Frankly the electronic device is a superior device because the nicotine is encapsulated and so it is protected from the vapourising until it’s heated, which is a very clever idea. But at the time we were not aware of anyone at the time who had considered inhaling pure nicotine, so at the time we were clearly the first ones, and yes, we invented the term vaping.
JD: You said originally it delivered more nicotine than a tobacco cigarette?
No, probably not. I think it was less, as I recall. You probably inhaled more volume than a cigarette but I don’t think it delivered more nicotine per puff.
JD: I noticed that you said that vapers were getting hiccups at the time?
Yes, and at lower levels of nicotine in the blood than a standard cigarette. I think Russell showed the same thing with nicotine gum.
The Favor Cigarette: Production and Commercialisation
JD: What happened to the invention?
NJ: We had a company, and it was listed on the American stock exchange. I came in, I did the research and we had some management, and the company was called Advanced Tobacco Products INC, the name of the cigarette was Favor.
And the tagline was Do yourself a favour.
JD: Did it ever get commercially produced?
NJ: Oh yes, in a big way. It was under production and we introduced it to the majority of the large grocery chains in the Western United States. I came into the company to manage it when the first management did not perform optimally, and ran through money a little too fast and I brought some money into the company and managed it.
Marketing went very well, we had a text book marketing plan which was effective. Unfortunately, the product was defective.
Failure of the Favor Cigarette
JD: What was the problem with it? I know you’d run trials with it for two years.
NJ: We ran a trial, we also commercialised it for a year or two. The problem with it is that nicotine is very volatile in its liquid state, and it had a very low pressure, and it evaporates. And when it evaporates it converts into the metabolite cotinine [query] which becomes rather bitter tasting. And so the problem is it has a very short shelf life.
And at the time we were looking at marketing but keeping it refrigerated at all the times, and then the powers that be decided to sell the technology rather than market it ourselves. And it was eventually sold to Upjon in Sweden, and I think they eventually made a nasal spray using the technology.
First Use of the Word Vaping
JD: I was going to ask you about that. Where did the word come from, did you come up with it yourself, or had you heard of it before?
NJ: I think it was Phil Ray or one of his colleagues, I don’t know whether I did or someone else did, but we called it vaping.
Since I was the front person, the CEO of the company, I used the term, I was on tv, in a lot of papers and interviews. I propagated it, but I probably didn’t invent the word. But no doubt about it, it started with us, as did the concept of pure nicotine inhalation.
Opinion on the Banning of ECigarettes
JD: What is your opinion on the suppression of e-cigarettes?
NJ: You know, James, I follow this with a bit of humour, we were involved in the front end before, we’ve seen this happening. They’re addressing a lot of the same subjects we addressed 35 years ago. The issues with the cigarette companies, the competitive product, the surreptitious sabotaging – we had no confirmation of that, we always suspected that was taking place, but we had no hard evidence. But the same issues were raised back then in the 1980’s.
I hear one side say well they are putting flavours in it because they want to pull kids in. They say nicotine is very dangerous so you don’t want to consume nicotine. I don’t have an easy answer. We don’t know how dangerous it is, we don’t know what damage nicotine by itself will produce to the lungs or the cardiovascular system. We do know nicotine is extremely addictive. It’s as addictive as morphine if not more so.
Back then, we noticed that people got the same buzz at a lower blood level from nicotine than from cigarettes, so we said that maybe there is something protective within the smoke, or the products that involved inhalation of tobacco, so I don’t think there’s enough information.
So the question is, is 1 is it an effective device to stop smoking? There is some evidence that it helps, some evidence that it doesn’t help much. Is it more effective than nicotine gum and the other nicotine cessation devices? I don’t know.
And can you become addicted to nicotine inhalation, just from using an e-cigarette? I don’t know, I suspect so, it is an opioid. So to answer your question, we have imperfect information.
But if I had a patient who asked if it is safer to smoke a cigarette or this device, I would say it is probably safer to smoke nude nicotine rather than all the other ingredients. That’s my suspicion. I suspect it’s probably not carcinogenic, I suspect it’s less athroclorotic, because we know carbon monoxide contributes to atherosclerosis [e-cigarettes do not contain carbon monoxide] I applaud those who conceptualised the idea of heating the nicotine, and of encapsulating it. A good idea – a better idea!
JD: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me!
Intriguingly, one reader, Adrian Dobbie, mentioned seeing a ‘fake’ cigarette that used a heating element to vapourise nicotine on Tomorrow’s World back in the 1980’s. So, this might not be the last vaping cigarette we hear about!
Thanks for reading. If you found this interview to be of value, please consider sharing using one of the share buttons below.
Thank you 😉
1. I queried this with Dr Jacobson after the interview, and he explained that he:
“Was probably alluding to the symptomatic side effects such as hiccoughs, which are attributed to smoking. On forced inhalation, symptoms occurred at a lower level of nicotine when using the nicotine laced faux cigarette (the non-combustible cigarette, NCC) when compared to the standard combustible cigarette. Please read my presentation transcript which described this phenomenon. Re: the blood levels of nicotine, some experienced smokers seemed to satisfy their needs with a lower blood level of nicotine while using the NCC compared to combustible cigarette smoking. This led to our wondering if some component of the combustible cigarette smoke blunted the nicotine receptors in the CNS. One thing most researchers at the time believed was that most smokers titrate their nicotine consumption to a level that gives them satisfaction, regardless of the source.”
2. When the FDA attempted to classify ecigarettes as a drugs design, they stated
“… in 1987, a decade before the rule at issue in Brown & Williamson, the FDA had asserted jurisdiction over a nicotine product indistinguishable in all relevant respects from the products at issue here [ecigs]. The “Favor Smokeless Cigarette” was a small plastic tube containing “a plug impregnated with nicotine solution” that allowed the user to inhale nicotine vapor, and it was marketed to provide “cigarette satisfaction without smoke.” AR NIC 10-11, 1 (Docket Entry 17). Although the manufacturer made no therapeutic claims, FDA advised that these products were unapproved new drugs and that FDA would take action if the company did not discontinue their marketing.”
Source: http://ash.org/fdareply.html (Thanks to Kate from Vaper’s Network for pointing this out!)