Many claim that the e-cig was the brain child of Hon Lik, who was a pharmacist by profession. He is said to have invented the product after the death of his father, who was a chain smoker and had been suffering from lung cancer. Lik used to work for a Chinese company called Golden Dragon Holdings, which first manufactured the electronic cigarette in 2003. The company changed its name to Ruyan, which is the word for ‘smoke.’ Beginning in 2005, Ruyan began exporting e-cigarettes outside of China.

However, some challenge this story, saying the concept of e-cigs appeared well before 2003 in a patent obtained by Herbert A Gill, in which he described a product as a ‘smokeless cigarette’ and portrayed it as a harmless substitute for conventional tobacco-based cigarettes.

E-cigs were first introduced in Europe in 2006, and in the US around the same time. They enjoyed a bit of popularity before finding themselves surrounded by numerous controversies and bans. In March 2008, the health ministry of Turkey imposed the first-ever ban on the import and sale of e cigarettes, claiming that e-cigs are not different from conventional cigarettes in terms of health hazards.  The VP of One Foundation, which is against smoking, agreed, alleging that nicotine is the most hazardous element found in cigarettes – making electronic cigarettes no safer.

During the same year, the World Health Organization released a statement saying that it didn’t consider electronic cigarettes to be a safe product and along with that it also compelled marketers to remove any kind of labeling statement or logo suggesting that the WHO considered e-cigs to be safe.

In 2009 as the FDA was readying an assault on e-cigs, an association of Electronic Cigarette manufacturers and distributors was formed to fight attempts to regulate or ban the devices; the FDA responded with statements claiming that e-cigarettes are unsafe and pose risks to the health of users.  Starting in that year, a number of nations instituted bans on the devices, and legal battles continue around the globe over the future of electronic cigarettes. However, in 2011 the FDA decided to regulate e-cigs in the same way they regulate tobacco cigarettes, rather than as drug delivery devices. That was good news for the industry.

Meanwhile, technological advances continued to contribute to the growing popularity of e-cigarettes; most important was the creation of the “two-piece” e-cig, which consists of a disposable cartridge (containing the liquid) and the battery (which heats it). This eliminated the need for the user to open and fill cartridges or containers with eliquid, making the process cleaner and easier for the end user. Sales of electronic cigarettes continue to grow, even as the legal battles roll on.