Vaping's wild history

You thought you knew everything about electronic cigarettes and the wide world of vaping, in particular its history?

Well, you may be surprised to learn that its invention isn't as recent as you may think. The e-cigarette's creation is often credited to a Chinese pharmacist, who wanted to save his father from lung cancer by replacing his tobacco addiction with a unique device.

This tool is capable of imitating classic cigarettes, thus helping smokers diminish their tobacco consumption.
An electronic cigarette is comprised of a battery and a tank, also known as a clearomiser. The latter contains an e-liquid, which is a mixture of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and flavourings. This liquid is heated by a metallic coil, which then vapourises said liquid, so that the user can inhale it by sucking on the e-cigarette's mouthpiece, commonly called 'drip tip'.

E-liquids can also contain nicotine if you want to, which can help with your tobacco withdrawal.

Despite this seemingly high-tech operation, did you know that electronic cigarettes were over a century old? Who invented it, why and for whom? Read on to find the answers to these questions.

A French invention?

A lot of people think that the concept of the electronic cigarette originated in the early 2000s, but we can trace its history back to 1903, in France.

It was at that time that a Parisian pharmacist by the name of Henry Ferré designed an inhaler that produced some white vapour.

Prototype de cigarette électronique par Henry Ferré

Henry Ferré's electronic cigarette prototype

The scientist used a mixture of hydrochloric acid, polyatomic alcohol, and an aqueous solution of ammonium carbonate to achieve a chemical reaction that, according to him, was harmless.

If Henry Ferré thought his device was revolutionary, his goal wasn't the same as the one behind today's electronic cigarettes.

Indeed, he was more focused on entertaining people than providing an alternative to tobacco. As we said, it was back in 1903, and the public health issues of the day were very different from the ones we have today.

So in a way, this French pharmacist invented vaping, but his prototype was never commercialised.

Herbert A. Gilbert's electronic cigarette

It wasn't until the 1960s that another e-cigarette device made its appearance. Herbert A. Gilbert, an American inventor, patented an electronic cigarette prototype that looks very similar to the kits we have today.

He names his invention 'Smokeless non-tobacco cigarette', whose goal is to 'provide a safe and harmless alternative to smoking, by replacing the burnt tobacco and paper with hot, humid, and flavoured air'.

Première cigarette électronique par Herbert A.Gilbert

Herbert A. Gilbert's first electronic cigarette

But there again, Herbert A. Gilbert's device was never commercialised. In a recent interview with Madrid's La Razón newspaper, where he talks about his 1963 e-cig patent, Gilbert stated that several companies from the pharmaceutical and technological fields, along with other tobacco manufacturers, had allegedly opposed themselves to his product's launch at the time.

And one day in China...

The electronic cigarette as we know it was created in 2003 by Hon Lik, a 52-year-old Chinese pharmacist whose father was afflicted by the most feared disease among smokers, lung cancer.

The scientist himself used to smoke 60 cigarettes a day, and he quickly noticed that 99% of tobacco's danger lies in its combustion and not the nicotine itself, because the former produces carbon monoxide and many other harmful chemicals. So, he wondered how he and his father could continue smoking without harming their health. Then one day, the answer came to him.

Hon Lik inventeur de la cigarette électronique

Hon Lik, the inventor of the modern electronic cigarette

Passionate about electronics from a very early age, Hon Lik used to repair radios in his village. He put his knowledge to use and designed a reliable device that can vapourise nicotine in liquid form, thus lowering the risks associated with smoking.

premier prototype de cigarette électronique par Hon Lik

Hon Lik's first electronic cigarette prototype

This is how he became the first one to successfully market his product on an industrial scale. He filed numerous patents and founded Dragonite International Ltd (Ruyan) in 2004, which became the first company to commercialise consumer-friendly electronic cigarettes.

In 2013 though, Imperial Tobacco bought out Hon Lik's patents and company for 75 million $, but the pharmacist still has an advisory role within the company.

And thus begins the story of the electronic cigarette, a meteoric rise that'll hopefully last for a long time.

Electronic cigarettes today

Electronic cigarettes have come a long way since their debut. They've managed to convince millions of smokers across the globe to quit smoking, or at least lower their tobacco consumption, in favour of vaping.

The e-cigarette has become a key player in the fight against tobacco, and we hope it'll remain so, as it has saved countless lives already. Let us remind you that tobacco kills more than 75,000 people every year in France alone.

From a technical standpoint, vaping devices have significantly improved over the last few years. Gone are the cartomizers, the sealed cartridges, the unreliable and weak batteries, and the ciga-likes. They've since then been replaced with more effective mods and boxes that have a longer battery life and more features.

Clearomisers and atomisers in general have also improved a lot. Coils are now of a much better quality and more affordable than before.

The cost of electronic cigarettes as a whole has dropped a lot, and it's possible for any vaper to equip himself properly, whatever his budget may be. The market has expanded and become more and more professional,
with many more years of growth still to come!

Finally, the e-liquids have also changed a lot. Gone are the tasteless and simplistic juices from the early days, now you have access to a wide choice of complex recipes, some of which are even aged in oak casks! Manufacturers work hard to offer all sorts of unique recipes, so that everyone can find the right juice for their particular taste. The sky's the limit!

The future of vaping

We must now look to the future of vaping. If the vaping sector has experienced a rapid growth, we need to defend it and carry on organising it to ensure its independence and legitimacy.

Indeed, vaping is a militant habit where you're fighting the scourge that is tobacco, which kills thousands of people every year. It's important to fight for the independence of vaping, so that it doesn't get influenced by the tobacco corporations. It's thanks to you and countless other vapers that vaping continues to exist and save lives.

We've seen just how rapidly vaping devices have evolved over the years, and we hope manufacturers will continue to follow this trend. Many ideas and concepts are popping up here and there, and they seem enticing indeed! Imagine a smart electronic cigarette that would allow you to order your favourite products on our A&L website, directly via the battery's screen, wouldn't that be amazing?

In conclusion, vaping still has plenty of surprises in store for us, and we can't wait to discover them by your side, like we've been doing since 2013.

If you want to learn more about electronic cigarettes

  • How to choose your electronic cigarette.
  • Knowing which electronic cigarettes to avoid.
  • How do you vape with an electronic cigarette?

By entering this website, I certify that I am of legal age
and that my country’s legislation allows me
to buy products that contain nicotine.

If you don't smoke,
don't vape

Vaping is a transition to a tobacco-free life without dependency on nicotine

By entering this website, you'll accept our legal notices


By clicking 'Accept', you agree to the storing of cookies on your device, which enhance your browsing experience and help us establish visitor statistics. Learn more. Accept

Manage your cookie preferences on

Our website also uses cookies for measuring traffic and establishing statistics on the sections and content that visitors look at, and how they got there. These cookies enable A&L to improve the website and provide visitors with a better browsing experience. These cookies are generated and managed by Google. For more information on its cookie management policy and the type of data the Google Analytics cookies collect, the User or Visitor is invited to look at Google's website by clicking on the following link: find out more.

If the User wants to prevent his/her data from being collected by these cookies, he/her can follow this link: Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on.