It is believed the tobacco has been growing for more than 8000 years in the Americas, especially in the wilderness around Ecuador and Peru. It was about 2000 years ago that humans started chewing and smoking tobacco as a part of the social and cultural ceremonies.

The spread of tobacco

However, it was Christopher Columbus, the 15th-century explorer who was the first European to discover tobacco and introduce it to Europe. By the late 17th century, tobacco had spread across the globe and started emerging as a global industry.

In the meanwhile, a lot of research was getting done on the causes and effects of tobacco smoking. In 1828, two German chemists Posselt & Reimann, successfully isolated the alkaloid “Nicotine” which was thought to be the reason behind addictive nature of tobacco.

In 1880 James Bonsack invented the cigarette making machine which truly revolutionised tobacco smoking and made it s global phenomenon. Tobacco consumption rose across the globe due to the convenience offered by the cigarette and since then there has been no looking back. For the next two hundred years, the cigarette continued to hold sway over the way tobacco was consumed across the world.

The first breakthrough

In 1967, Herbert Gilbert patented a device that would not burn the tobacco. Instead, his “smokeless cigarette” had a mechanism that included a paper which when heated would release vapours that were inhaled to achieve the same effect as tobacco, sans combustion and hence the smoke.  While this device did not prove to be commercially successful, it did start a race across the world to search such device. Henceforth, while the principle of creating vapours remained the same, the mechanism to achieve the desired effect kept on getting improvised.

The first e-cigarette

In 2003, a Chinese pharmacist, Hon Lik, created the first commercially viable e-cigarette. This e-cigarette had three components – the atomiser, a battery and a mouthpiece. It used Propylene Glycol (PG) mixed with Nicotine. Inhaling through the mouthpiece would activate the heating element in the atomiser. This in turn would create vapours of PG mixed with Nicotine. This e-cigarette produced smoke and delivered Nicotine, but did not smell like a conventional tobacco cigarette.

The Next Gen of e-cigarette

Since the launch of Hon Lik’s e-cigarette, the world has seen many improvements both in the hardware as well as the liquid being inhaled through the device.  Also, now this habited called “Vaping” (Vap = short for vapour) and the instruments are called Vaping Devices.

The new Hardware & Software

Now-a-days, e-cigarettes come in 2 broad categories – rechargeable and disposable.

Disposable e-cigarette

As the name suggests, disposable e-cigarettes fall under the “use & throw” category. Typically, this cigarette lasts for about 400 to 500 puffs or equivalent to 40-45 conventional cigarettes. This makes such cigarettes not only convenient to manage, but also easy to dispose off. It has an inbuilt and non-rechargeable battery and is also loaded with juice (e-liquid) that will last for 400-500 puffs. Besides being disposable and convenient to operate, the advantage of such cigarette is that one can choose from a range of flavours and Nicotine levels (including zero nicotine) or its combinations.  Also, by choosing a different base liquid instead of Propylene Glycol (PG), this e-cigarette can be made to go completely smokeless. Hence, first-timers prefer to start with disposable e-cigarettes till such a time that they don’t get a hang of things

As the name suggests, neither the battery nor liquid in such e-cigarette can be recharged or refilled. The cigarette has to be compulsorily disposed off once the battery is discharged or the liquid is exhausted.

Rechargeable e-Cigarette

As the name suggests, the battery of this e-cigarette can be recharged at regular intervals and also the liquid. The hardware of such e-cigarettes is completely reusable and last for long period of times. One can easily change the cartridge and keep on using the vaping device till such a time that the battery is strong enough. Once the battery has drained or has become weak, one needs to recharge it.

The advantage is not only that the device has a much longer life but one can even keep on experimenting with the flavours and nicotine levels. Also, one can get an option of doing away with the smoke producing Propylene Glycol (PG) as the base material. Like disposable e-cigarettes, rechargeable e-cigarette can also be made absolutely smokeless.

Within rechargeable e-cigarettes, higher capacity devices are also available. Called as a Vape Pen and Mods or Tank, these devices have increasingly larger storage capacity for the e-liquid and battery to last longer than conventional e-cigarettes. These high capacity devices are generally preferred by experienced users.

The Way Forward

At a global level, the market size of e-cigarette and other vape devices was estimated at USD 12.41 billion for the year 2019-20. During the period 2020 till 2027, it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.8%. US alone is expected to generate revenues exceeding $16.1 Billion by 2024 growing at a CAGR or 18.4% between 2019-24.

The e-cigarette has come a long way and is here to stay. With rising consumer demand, the e-cigarette will keep on evolving with greater use of technology and the desire for customisation.  Also, as newer flavours get added to the already large range, the popularity of the e-cigarette is bound to increase further. Christopher Columbus may have never imagined that the humble plant that he took out of Americas and transported to Europe would become a global rage and spawn such a big industry.