“I was sure that the electronic cigarette would be welcomed with open arms”
Slightly old article here from back in July, but I’m seeing a lot of posts citing Herbert A. Gilbert as the inventor of electronic cigarettes. Whilst his 1963 device shares a lot with today’s e-cigarettes, it’s missing three important things: nicotine, flavour and vapour (Herbert’s device just involved inhaling moist, flavoured air).
The article doesn’t end well, and I certainly don’t hope we get the regulation Han Lik suggests, but it’s important to recognise him as the Chinese pharmacist who invented the modern electronic cigarette.
Sciences et Avenir : What pushed you to begin research on the electronic cigarette and what were the main challenges?
Hon Lik : My basic specialty is finding how to introduce our traditional pharmacopeia’s active substances into the human body. I used to be a big smoker myself and knowing the harmful effects associated with it very well, I told myself I couldn’t go on like that.
I tried nicotine patches but I didn’t care for the idea of slow diffusion of the drug into the organism. I missed the effect of the sudden impact, the act of smoking, the sensation of smoking. So I started thinking of a way to create vapor containing nicotine, similar to cigarette smoke but not as harmful for the organism.
In 2001 I devised a system on a large console, using food additives as solvents. At the time I was working on vaporization by ultrasound but the droplets formed were too big to resemble tobacco smoke. This technology is used for example in some household humidifiers; it consists of making a metallic diaphragm vibrate at an ultrasonic frequency in a liquid to create micro-droplets which then, upon contact with room-temperature air, form a sort of cold vapor.
“I was sure that the electronic cigarette would be welcomed with open arms and that in three years we would be able to put together the right manufacturing and distribution networks, I was naïve…” Hon Lik, inventor of the electronic cigarette
I finally decided to use resistance heating which got better results. The challenge was managing to scale the mechanism down to a miniature size right for a cigarette and getting the right dose of nicotine, while also getting the right odors from harmless additives. This is how I came to file the first patent in 2003 in China.Sciences et Avenir