Two men in sunglasses vaping.

The True Origins of Vaping (It All Started in the 1970’s!)

Who do you consider to be the inventor of the electronic cigarette?

Most vapers would answer Hon Lik, who came up with an electronic inhalation device in the first decade of this century.

But last year we interviewed Herbert Gilbert, who developed a smokeless cigarette in 1960’s.

The debate is still ongoing as to whether Herbert Gilbert or Hon Lik is the true inventor of the modern e-cigarette.

But just to throw another major spanner in the works, we found another reference to vaping, originating from the early 80’s and referring to a device invented in the late 70’s.

A reference to vaping in the 1970's.

The device, which was invented by computer entrepreneur J. Phillip Ray, was also reported in The Spokane Daily Chronicle, on 16th February 1980.

Image from a 1980's newspaper announcing the development of vaping.

The True Origins of Vaping

An extract from World Medical News.

In contrast to previous attempts at developing a fake cigarette, for the first time nicotine was delivered in a ‘vapour’ form (Herbert Gilbert’s device used hot air.)

Dr Jacobson, who ran a trial on the device, described the use of the device as vaping, and called the people who used it vapers.

And a trial came up with similar results to more modern studies; vapers showed reduced cotinine levels, carbon monoxide levels were at the same as those of non-smokers, and vaping appeared to be more effective for experienced vapers than naive vapers.

Dr Jacobson suggested that the reason experienced vapers found the devices more effective is because they had to learn, like smokers, how to self-titrate – that is, they had learned to the devices so they took enough nicotine to satisfy their needs.

The devices were also effective in replacing cigarettes – according to Medical World News (see image above), all smokers were able to cut down or reduce the amount they smoked for two years.

To view the transcript of Dr Jacobson’s presentation, click here.

What happened?

So what happened to a device that the doctor was confident would be approved?

While we couldn’t find any evidence, we do know that other safe alternatives to smoking were suppressed by the tobacco industry, on the basis that if a safer alternative was invented they would have to admit that smoking tobacco itself was not safe. (See A History of the Electronic Cigarette for examples!)


The implications are huge for the vaping industry.

Tobacco companies have been buying up e-cigarette patents, with the intention of dominating the electronic cigarette market.

Given the changes in technology since Hon Lik’s invention, the challenge will hinge on the concept of vaping rather than the invention itself.

But experts are already questioning the validity of the patent given that Herbert Gilbert invented a device which he believes is identical in concept to Hon Lik’s.

With a second device invented which is even closer to 20th century electronic cigarettes, it’s going to be difficult to claim that Hon Lik came up with an original device!

(Although let’s not forget Hon Lik is still responsible for saving millions of lives!)

The Inventor and The Doctor

I can find very little on the doctor himself. He appears to be alive, and practising medicine in San Antonio, but I have been unable to get in contact with him.

As for the inventor, I can find nothing.

If you know anything about them, please let me know in the comments!

UPDATE: We managed to track down Dr Jacobson and he kindly agreed to an interview, which you can read here.

13 thoughts on “The True Origins of Vaping (It All Started in the 1970’s!)”

  1. I came across the first document – I can’t actually remember where – then just started digging. I was very surprised! I did find a number listed for Dr Jacobson (nice to know he wasn’t bumped off 😉 ) but when I rang it the number had been disconnected.

  2. Pingback: An Interview with The Inventor of the Electronic Cigarette

  3. Pingback: The History of the Electronic Cigarette

  4. hi has anyone got some extra info on vaping? i’m doing a project at school and I can get half a GCSE and I’m doing it about smoking and vaping so I need all the info I can get! 🙂 anyone got any quick facts?

  5. No……”Vaping” started in the 1820th!
    The Physician’s Vade-mecum: Containing the Symptoms, Causes, …
    Robert Hooper, ‎Thomas and George Underwood (Londres) – 1823 – ‎Lesen – ‎Mehr Ausgaben
    INHALING THE VAPOUR of hot water, alone, or impregnated with aether, conium, NICOTINA, digitalis, or stramonium. …

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