Electronic cigarettes first appeared on the market in the 21st Century, but their origins can be traced back nearly half a century.
The first patent for an electronic cigarette design was issued to Herbert A. Gilbert in 1963. Gilbert envisioned a smokeless cigarette that would replace tobacco with moist, heated air that was infused with tobacco flavor. Since the health risks associated with tobacco were not widely recognized at the time, Gilbert’s idea for an electronic cigarette did not catch on until four decades later.Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik is credited with inventing the first electronic cigarette in 2003. Lik was a smoker who consumed two packs of cigarettes per day and created the e-cigarette as a personal alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes. Lik’s original e-cigarette used an e-liquid he made from a mixture of propylene glycol, nicotine extract and flavoring.The Runyan Corporation took Lik’s invention and created its own design. Runyan began marketing the first e-cigarettes in 2004. This new invention was exported to international markets within two years and it received an international patent in 2007.
Electronic cigarettes constructed from Lik’s original design contained three distinct components: a cartridge, an atomiser and a power supply. Many electronic cigarettes were designed to mimic tobacco based cigarettes. Others were built to resemble ballpoint pens. Some e-cigarette models come with replaceable parts or liquid refills and are reusable. Other types of e-cigarettes are disposable.
All electronic cigarettes use an e-liquid to produce a mist that possesses many qualities similar to tobacco smoke without the unpleasant odor. E-liquids come in hundreds of distinct flavors and are produced with many of the same ingredients Lik used in his initial mixture.
Long term health effects of electronic cigarettes are inconclusive and it has been subject to heated debate ever since e-cigarettes were introduced to the international market.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a press release on their official website in July, 2009 warning against using electronic cigarettes because they contained carcinogens – official FDA tests did find one type of carcinogen but at levels thousands of times lower than those found in regular cigarettes. FDA attempts to have the device banned were defeated in court three times, with judges saying that the FDA had failed to prove the device was harmful.
The World Health Organization rejected the idea of accepting electronic cigarettes as an aid to halt smoking in an official statement posted on its website on September, 2008. The WHO urged e-cigarette marketers to not sell their product as a method to quit smoking, saying no scientific evidence supported such claims.
The consensus among tobacco harm reduction experts is that electronic cigarettes is around 98-99% safer than cigarettes, with a risk level roughly the same as that of a cup of coffee.