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Vaping – A Short (but incredibly eventful) Timeline

Vaping – A Short (but incredibly eventful) Timeline



It's hard to believe given the state of today's technology, but e-cigarettes, as they were once popularly called (and still are in less-informed circles) have only been around for a few years! Let's take a look at the progression of the technology and see how far it's come…

1963 – American Herbert Gilbert patents the first "smokeless non-tobacco cigarette" that involved "replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air." Gilbert never actually made the device, but he claimed in a 2013 interview that modern vaping hardware essentially is the same as what he'd proposed 50 years earlier.

2003 – Forty years after Gilbert, Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, frequently credited as the "godfather of vaping," patents a similar device. He's motivated to quit smoking after his father, a heavy smoker like Hon, died of lung cancer. By the next year, the Ruyan (Chinese for "resembling smoking") e-cigar was being marketed in China. By 2007, similar devices were being exported to the United States and Europe en masse.

2007-2009 – Early devices consisted of three separate pieces: a battery, an atomizer, and a cartridge filled with liquid. Most attempted to copy the size and shape of cigarettes, with different threading styles including 808, 909, 510 and others making hardware from competing manufacturers incompatible without the use of myriad adapters.

During this time, most users abandoned the "auto-draw" sensors that activated the battery when air was flowing, which mimicked smoking in that the batteries had no button to depress while delivering power. While some auto-firing batteries still exist, the technology was faulted for being finicky, not working at times and being erroneously activated by a breeze at other.

Another advancement was the cartomizer, which combined the atomizer and wicking cartridge into one device, allowing for more efficient e-liquid delivery. The wicking materials themselves left much to be desired, however, which resulted in users modifying their cartridges to use various household materials including empty teabags and blue aquarium foam in an attempt to hold as much liquid as possible (perhaps even as much as 1 ml!) and deliver it efficiently to the atomizer.

Eventually, the 510 threading system used by upstart Joyetech, which would eventually become one of the major players in the vaping industry, won out and became industry standard. Today, Joyetech continues to dominate, marketing products under the brands eLeaf (the iStick series), Wismec (the popular RX200 triple-18650 mod), iSmoka, and the popular eVic, Cuboid, and other devices under their own name.

Around this time, many users unhappy with the short battery life their tiny "cigalike" devices provide and the limited power delivery begin modifying other devices such as flashlights, or creating their own homemade vape gear – this hardware is referred to by the budding vape community as "mods," a name that would end up sticking and eventually refer to every advanced vaping device, regardless of whether any actual modification had been done by the end user.

2009 – Continuing on with what's briefly becoming a history of Joyetech, the company releases a revolutionary device: the eGo "pen-style." With whopping battery life of up to 600 mAh (as much as three times the life of existing stick batteries, or twice as much as "high-powered") units, the devices made vaping accessible to those without the engineering background necessary to build a mod of their own, or without the finances to order from one of the modders offering their wares for sale (most had a very long waiting list for the privilege of even becoming a customer).

2010-2011 – Around this time, vapers began demanding more e-liquid than a cartomizer could contain, which led to two developments, one of which is still around today.

First, the carto tank – in theory this was as simple as punching holes in the metal sides of a cartomizer, then slipping a steel or glass tank over the top and filling the tank with liquid, which in practice wasn't nearly as simple as it sounded. While a company called Boge made what most generally agreed were the superior cartomizers on the market, another new company with staying power emerged in Smoktech (now most commonly referred to as Smok, makers of the X-Cube mod series and 2015's top clearomizer, the TFV4), who sold pre-punched cartomizers and a line of sturdy tanks to go with them.

Another tank system would soon gain popularity as well – the clearomizer. Named for its usually-clear shell made from glass or polycarbonate plastic, these tanks initially held as much as 1.5-2.5 ml of liquid, far more than an un-tanked cartomizer. They also offered the advantage of being able to keep an eye on your e-liquid level, so you'd know when to top up before burning your wicks.

Early clearomizers were often "top coil" systems, placing the heating wire near the top of the tank in order to provide the most heat and vapor possible from the relatively tiny heating wires used at the time. Long silica wicks drooped into the tank to catch vape juice and direct it toward the coils, but were inefficient and required a user to constantly tilt and turn their mod while vaping to keep the wicks from drying out. Bottom-coil clearos (BCCs) eventually became the industry standard due to their smaller, easier-to-change disposable disposable coils.

More names that would become industry stalwarts began emerging around this time – Kangertech with its popular Evod and Protank clearomizer lines, Aspire with the Nautilus tank, Innokin and their iTaste mod lineup including the popular MVP.

2012-2013 – By now, the vape craze is really picking up steam (pun somewhat intentional). Hobbyists are now able to buy partially-assembled Rebuildable Tank Atomizers (RTAs) like the Kayfun and Russian 91%, or Rebuildable Dripping Atomizers (RDAs, too many popular models to mention), installing their own wick and wire "builds" to customize the vape experience.

There are several popular mass-produced mods on the market, including Innokin's line, the ambiguously-branded VAMO, the impeccably-crafted-yet-insanely-expensive Provari, and offerings from emerging companies like Sigelei.

Even Big Tobacco, after initially ignoring vaping as a fad, sees its customer base begin to bleed off and takes notice. Lorillard acquires cigalike maker blu, while RJ Reynolds and Marlboro parent Altria rush to bring their own products, the Vuse and Mark Ten, to market. Reviews on these products are mixed at best, as the e-cig industry has already moved onto better technology than the stick batteries and single-use cartomizers these devices use, while many vapers are hesitant to trust any tobacco company's product and bitter after overcoming years of addiction to cigarettes.

There's a problem with even the latest crop of mods, however: most have power settings that max out at 15-20 watts. Vapers, now given the freedom to control their atomizers, are building coils that demand more power than their regulated devices can supply.

Thus began the rise of the mechanical mod. While the "mech" can be traced back to the early "screwdriver mods" that first coined the everyday term for an advanced personal vaporizer, users began adopting them en masse. Early popular devices included the Chi-You, Nemesis, Caravela, and Stingray, many of which remain prized collector's pieces and everyday workhorses in the modern day vape world.

2014 – While mechs are still popular, regulated mods begin making a comeback, with many manufacturers offering devices capable of producing 30-50 watts of power. By the middle of the year, SMY releases the God Mod, claiming to deliver a whopping 180 watts – it doesn't come close to hitting these specs in real life, but the wattage wars have begun.

As vaping gains power, users begin to realize they're consuming much more e-liquid than ever before, with thirsty builds emptying bottles at a record rate. In response to more efficient delivery systems, users cut their nicotine consumption dramatically – while 12 and 18 mg/ml e-liquids were common with old devices using 3-6 ml/day, 3 and 6 mg becomes the norm as many vapers start to feed their devices 5-10 ml of  e-liquid a day or more. High-octane juices in 24 and even 36 mg/ml become rare after most leading manufacturers cut them due to lack of demand.

Exploding e-liquid consumption also leads to a hoard of mixers entering the commercial market for the first time – many produce a great product, many more elicit terrible reviews.

The game changer for regulated vaping ends up coming from Sigelei, a company that by now has been around for some time but hasn't made much noise. With the release of the Sigelei 100 in late 2014, the vape world is introduced to a durable, sub-$100 dual cell box mod that delivers the power it advertises (and more power than virtually all vapers can imagine using). The original version isn't attractive, with boxy, squared edges and a battery door that uses screws to supplement the magnets that hold it on, but it nonetheless earns accolades across the vape community.

2015 – In the following months, other manufacturers including Pioneer4You with its IPV3 and IPV4, Smok with the X-Cube, and more begin piling onto the 100+ watt craze, driving listed capacities up to 150 (as high as a two-cell mod can in all reality safely operate) and beyond. Mech mods begin to decline in popularity, and new releases are targeted more at the high-end enthusiast market than the average vaper.

While new mech and RDA designs had been flooding consumers with new product seemingly every week, sub-ohm clearomizers (now referred to simply as "tanks" by newer users who weren't around for carto tanks and without much experience with rebuildable tanks) become the hot ticket item. Newer manufacturers come to prominence and older ones regain legitimacy as Innokin rolls out the bargain-priced iSub (one of the last polycarbonate tanks on the market) and then-unknown Uwell introduces the Crown. Between these, Atlantis spinoffs like the Herakles, Horizontech's Arctic, Smok's highly-acclaimed TFV4, and others, a power war begins anew, with clearo manufacturers designing tanks capable of pushing 60, then 80, then 100 watts or more without delivering dry hits.

Kanger enters the mod market with its KBox series, first issued as a standalone 40-watt device, then as an upgraded 50-watt design that comes paired with a Subtank for a high power plug-and-play "beginner's kit" that far outpaces the devices seasoned enthusiasts were using just a few years ago. Smok and others follow suit.

A new technology, "temperature control," promises users the option of selecting a temperature beyond which their mod stops delivering power to the coil. It's marketed as the end of "dry hits" from users allowing a wick to run dry, though early hiccups and a limited range of compatible coil wires make for a bumpy start. Users are initially divided over the usefulness of the new option, while manufacturers continue to refine the technology.

On the health front, numerous studies emerge questioning the health benefits of switching from smoking to vaping emerge. Most are questioned for their incomplete or shoddy methodology, which frequently includes heating outdated cartomizer to the point that the wicking material begins to burn in order to document the presence of carcinogens in e-cigarette vapor.

The British government's medical agency Public Health England, meanwhile, finds in their own studies that vaping is "95% safer" than smoking cigarettes and encourages smokers to consider switching.