DOSSIER: The invention of the e-cigarette, an exciting story of a revolutionary device!

DOSSIER: The invention of the e-cigarette, an exciting story of a revolutionary device!

Mystery and gum balls! To whom do we really owe the invention of the e-cigarette, this risk reduction tool that has been gaining momentum for more than 10 years now? Through this dossier concocted by our editorial staff, you will be able to discover that this invention is not the fruit of a person but indeed of a collective work which has been carried out over several decades.


Is it serious to talk about the invention of a risk reduction tool such as the e-cigarette without mentioning the history of tobacco? It seems to us clearly not. If the debate can indeed take place, we think that if tobacco did not exist, the e-cigarette would probably not have been.

First of all, let's start in the history of tobacco. It is estimated that the first tobacco plants began to be cultivated several thousand years ago. The date wavers between 8000 years for the American continent et 3000 years for the European continent.

From Antiquity, one sees appearing the consumption of "tobacco" in Europe. Similarly, in Africa, during the egyptian era. At the time, it was not tobacco as such, but more the burning of plants and the use of smoke to heal or pray. We then use eucalyptus and pear leaves for pipe smoking. But it is thanks to the plants cultivated in South and Central America that the tobacco we know today was born.

Mayan civilization and its use of "tobacco"

Concerning America, the first tobacco cultures would date back to Mayan times, about eight thousand years old. The Mayans used tobacco to heal themselves, but also in their religious and magical rituals, various social rites and important ceremonies.

For Europe, tobacco does not appear until after the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492. This one is then imported on the continent, then marketed. His business did not stop developing in the following centuries.

Indians and conquistadors: The pipe of peace

However, it is only 1843That the first official cigarette is invented. It is then seen as an effective and inexpensive way to be able to use tobacco. Half a century later, it has established itself as a product of everyday life and even becomes a fashion item, to the great misfortune of health professionals.

Cultivated on all continents, tobacco is becoming a part of everyday life. Technical and industrial progress make it easier to produce these cigarettes which are essential in the face of the quid, the pipe or even the cigar. The cigarette with filter that is used today appeared in Switzerland in the 1930s and arrived in French homes in 1950.


We would often tend to date the beginnings of the e-cigarette at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet we also know that between the XNUMXth century and the XNUMXnd century av. J.-C, the Scythians based in Egypt had a practice related to steam. If we cannot clearly speak of e-cigarettes or vaping, it is disturbing to imagine that this group of Indo-European peoples from Eurasia who invaded Egypt may have contributed to the creation of e-cigarettes thousands of years later.

Herodotus, Greek historian and geographer. Considered the first historian, he was nicknamed the “Father of History” by Cicero because of his great historical work

Herodotus, Greek historian and geographer, considered the first historian and nicknamed the " Father of History "Wrote in his time:" The Scythians take a part of this hemp seed and throw it on the stones heated to red; immediately it vaporizes and gives off a vapor which no Greek steam bath can exceed; the Scythians, delighted, cry out with joy. ».

Use of the hookah or "hookah" by the dynasty of the Segovids

The dynasty of Sephardic ou Safavids who reigned over Persia from 1501 à 1736 were using what we today call a hookah or "hookah". If we still do not talk about vaping as we know it today it remains the beginnings of vaping which clearly do not deserve to be ignored.

To come to the modern e-cigarette, we have to go several hundreds of years until the very beginning of the 20th century.

Henry Ferré - Parisian pharmacist


Pride or historical reality, it is not always a question of French Henry Ferré in the fabulous invention of the e-cigarette. However, for some, French is nothing more or less than the first inventor of the modern electronic cigarette. Obviously, the Americans or the Chinese will not agree with this assertion.

However in 1903, the Parisian pharmacist Henry Ferré has the idea of ​​creating a revolutionary object. Its tubular inhaler works thanks to a mixture of several chemical substances which produce a white vapor. To generate this vapor, Henry Ferré uses a mixture of hydrochloric acid, an aqueous solution of ammonium carbonate and polyatomic alcohol. For the pharmacist, there is no doubt. His invention is harmless.

It is presented by Henry Ferré in this way: " These openings, which are capable of being closed or open, allow the production, by aspiration or by forcing of a current of air which acts on the cotton or the saturated porous material produces for each container a different aerosol, which combined in the vaporization chamber, formed at the inner end of the tube, produces the desired vapor, which can be inhaled immediately via the mouthpiece. The body of the device thus formed can be covered with a sheet of paper or any other suitable material, so as to give the appearance of a cigar. »

Figure 1 of Henry Ferré's patent

The pharmacist saw his device as an attraction. Its main goal is to entertain people. His device has never been sold and Henry Ferré unfortunately remains unknown to most specialists who study the history of the e-cigarette.


In 1909, Ignazio Bucceri presents a tubular object having the appearance of a cigar. The patent introduces the revolutionary product as an inhaler that produces vapor with the taste of cigar smoke. The product is presented on December 23, 1909 and is patented June 28, 1910.

The patent for the "cigar" inhaler by Ignazio Bucceri

In his patent, there is a complete presentation of the inventor: " Know that I, Ignazio Bucceri, subject of the King of Italy, and resident of Brooklyn, in Kings County, New York, I have invented some new and useful improvements regarding inhalers, here is a specification. My invention relates to tubular inhalers that can be held in the mouth.

The goal of my invention is to produce a very cheap inhaler designed to represent a cigar and containing chemicals that vaporize. When combined this will produce a vapor with the color of tobacco smoke having a very pleasant taste. These inhalers are not only easily transportable, but they are especially useful for those who smoke.«


For many, the story of the invention of the e-cigarette begins in 1927 with the American, Joseph robinson. He surprises his world by presenting the first » electric vaporizer ".

« My invention relates to vaporization devices containing medicinal components which are electrically heated to produce vapors for inhalation. It provides a device for individual use which can be freely manipulated without any possibility of getting burned and which is hygienic, very effective and so simple that anyone can use it. "He declares at the time.

Joseph Robinson electric vaporizer patent (1930)

Introduced in 1927, the product is patented on September 16, 1930. However, we must be clear, there is no question of an electronic cigarette even if we remain close to its definition today (provided that we want to make it a medical device). It is important to clarify that the " electric vaporizer By Joseph Robinson did not contain a battery (rather logical in 1927), it is connected by a cable to an electric source. Interesting nonetheless, the resistance directly heats substances like current inhalers.


The 29 December 1944, Marvin L. Folkman presents a substitute for cigarettes. Its creation is clear, it speaks of a volatile agent released by the air flow of an inhalation to create a substitute for cigarettes.

Patent of Marvin L. Folkman in 1948

In its patent validated on July 20, 1948, we are talking about a real substitute for cigarettes and especially for harmful tobacco smoke. He specifies :

» It is known that smoking is an addiction for several thousand people, but inhaling tobacco smoke is, to some extent, detrimental to the nervous system of smokers due to the nicotine contained in tobacco smoke. The main objective of my invention was to produce a replacement cigarette which can be advantageously used by people wishing to do away with cigarettes filled with tobacco. »


On February 21, 1956, the American inventor Frank Bartolomeo launched his creation: Smoking Device With a capsule containing the aromas and tobacco smoke. His patent validated on November 18, 1958.

Frank Bartolomeo's “Smoking Device” patent

In his patent, Frank Bartolomeo gives some explanations on the reason for its creation: » There are many places where smoking is prohibited due to new hazards such as the presence of explosives. The object of the present invention is to provide a smoking device simulating a cigarette which will provide smoke without using combustion. »

Herbert.A Gilbert - In the 60s


In 1963, the American Herbert A. Gilbert registers a patent in Pennsylvania entitled " a smokeless cigarette that does not contain tobacco », We are getting closer to the definition of the modern e-cigarette. Considered by most Americans as the inventor of the e-cigarette, Herbert A. Gilbert speaks of a " smokeless cigarette replacing tobacco and paper with heated, flavored air " The principle is to pass heated air through a cartridge containing an aroma, a bit like a cartridge coffee maker. His patent is validated on August 17, 1965.

The smokeless cigarette patent filed in 1963
Herbert A. Gilbert 2018

At this date, tobacco is already considered a scourge. Indeed, 523 million cigarettes were burned in the United States, the dangers of this one on health are known to such an extent that it receives the nickname still used today of " killer ".

If the concept proposed by Herbert A. Gilbert seems to approach clearly the modern e-cigarette only the contribution of an aroma is still used today. Unfortunately for the inventor, the " Smokeless non-tabacco cigarette« (the smokeless and tobacco-free cigarette) was a real flop. No company wished to start marketing. Gilbert accuses the blow and judges the tobacco industries at fault.

In 2018, he declared " All of today's vaping devices simply apply 21st century technology to my 20th century invention. » adding » As soon as the patent was granted and published, the pharmaceutical and tobacco manufacturers did everything in their power to prevent its success and, as soon as it expired, they all presented new patents with the same operational function as my original invention ".

Not far from 70 years later, the pill still does not pass for Herbert A. Gilbert who considers that the tobacco industry and the pharmaceutical industry have declared war on him ...

Le Dr Norman Jacobson and his non-combustible cigarette " Favor«


In 1970, the designer of microprocessors essential to our computers Phil ray must have an operation. But to do this, he must put an end to his heavy consumption of cigarettes. He asks his doctor, the Dr Norman Jacobson, a fast and effective alternative to cigarettes. The two men conversed at length before developing a non-combustible cigarette in 1980 which they named Favor.

This product allows the evaporation of nicotine. It is the first product supposedly from the vape to be marketed. But again, it is a failure. The duo also puts the blame on the tobacco industry which has put itself as a bulwark against its marketing. It should be noted that this product was not electronic and did not generate any vapor, which is likely to be the reason for the bitter failure.


En 1988, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company (abbreviated as RJ Reynolds) is launching a new product which is not really an e-cigarette but which also has its place in this fabulous story. In the cigarette " Premier »There are two important products for vaping: aroma and especially vegetable glycerin as well as inhaled nicotine.

The idea was to heat an aerosol using a piece of charcoal (like the hookah). The whole is slipped into a paper tube resembling a real cigarette and having a filter. Obviously the health aspect was not present. The taste is not there, the cigarette " Premier Will make a trade flop.

Stephane Marc Vlachos - "inventor" of modern e-cigarettes


Myth or reality ? Difficult to say what is the real role of French Stephane Marc Vlachos. In 2001, the computer science student presented his invention: a Lithium battery that heats a resistor surrounded by a cotton fluff, actuated by a button, the liquid used is composed of vegetable glycerin. His invention being essentially based on the work of Herbert A. Gilbert and Joseph Robinson, the Frenchman never succeeded in getting his invention recognized.

According to some sources, the patent is still pending for recognition by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization). However, he seems to be the first to use a battery, and a wick or wad to retain liquid. A Wikipedia file who dedicated it to him specifies in 2013 that Stéphane Marc Vlachos would have had his invention stolen by a Chinese woman.

For many French references, Stephane Marc Vlachos is undoubtedly the inventor of the modern e-cigarette, but it remains difficult to find reliable and definitive proof of this paternity.

Hon Lik, recognized inventor of the modern e-cigarette


Recognized as the inventor of the modern e-cigarette, Hon Lik is a Chinese pharmacist who has earned a real reputation as a hero.

Hon Lik discovered cigarettes at 18 in a China undergoing a cultural revolution. Born in Xifeng, he benefits from tobacco production in his village. A dependence arises which grows over time. From one pack a day, it quickly consumes two packs a day. He became an expert in the repair of radios in his village before studying the Chinese pharmacopoeia in 1977. He became assistant director of the Chinese Medicine Research Institute in Shenyang. Having become a pharmacist, he is determined to quit smoking.

The Chinese pharmacist is trying to stop his addiction with the patch. But he realizes that it is not enough to satisfy his nicotine needs. He understands that nicotine stimulates the brain, especially at night. The rapid arrival of nicotine to the brain during a draw on a cigarette must be filled. He wants to reproduce this peak of nicotine to stop smoking.

Patent of the "smokeless cigarette with electronic spraying" by Hon Lik

In 2000, Hon Lik declares to have " have a dream »However he will not start working on the e-cigarette until 2003. It was a year later, in 2004 that his patent is pending. Rather surprising presentation, there is a battery, an electronic card detecting the aspiration and triggering the heating of a resistance (a kind of automatic switch), the principle of a liquid containing nicotine (without precision of composition). According to the patent of the Chinese pharmacist, the liquid is sprayed on the atomizer (without wick) in the manner of a perfume bottle.

The only real inventions of Hon Lik are the principle of automatic switch and spraying. There is also no question of e-cigarette but of " smokeless cigarette with electronic spray".

Prototype of the e-cigarette invented by Hon Lik

In 2005, Hon Lik founded his own e-cigarette company in Shenyang which he named Ruyan. But his company is the victim of a smear campaign. His invention is used by other companies which manufacture in larger quantities and market at better prices on Chinese territory. His patent will finally be bought by the tobacco company " Imperial Tobacco "For the astronomical sum of 75 million dollars (55 million euros) September 2013.


We come to the conclusion of this fascinating dossier and it is always as difficult to say with certainty who is the real inventor of the modern e-cigarette. The easiness would obviously be to declare Hon Lik winner of this battle however it would be an easy shortcut " first commercialization = inventor " If for the press and a good part of the population the Chinese pharmacist is the inventor of the e-cigarette this is not the case for the Americans who prefer Herbert A. Gilbert and for a part of the French who will declare that the invention is that of Stephane Marc Vlachos or even ofHenry Ferré.

The reality however seems simpler! The fabulous history of the modern e-cigarette lies in its evolution over time. There is not one, but inventors of the modern e-cigarette. There are invention patents. Each one proposing a set of principles but none of which alone allows you to make an e-cigarette. There are also many mysteries surrounding the potential harmful implications of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries for the creation of this product, which today is anti-smoking.

What seems certain is that the history of e-cigarettes and vaping has only just begun!

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About the Author

Editor-in-chief of, the reference site on the news of the vape. Committed to the world of vape since 2014, I work every day so that all vapers and smokers are informed.