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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Electronic Ingenuity - the Creation of Smokeless Cigarettes

By Tariku Haque

Though electronic cigarettes did not come to market until 2004, the idea was first patented by Herbert Gilbert in 1963. He did not end up following through on manufacturing his device, because limitations in technology prevented the reasonable price, straightforward use, and easy portability enjoyed by today's consumers. In addition, tobacco cigarette smoking was very much in vogue at that time, and the impact to health was not yet widely recognized. While Mr. Gilbert had an excellent idea, he was ahead of his time. Not until the risks of cigarettes were studied and accepted did any market exist for the costlier electronic version.

In the initial patent, the creation was described as "...a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette ... to provide a safe and harmless means for and method of smoking by replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air..." Compare this to the actual smokeless cigarette being sold today, similarly promoted as safe and harmless, and featuring heated, moist, flavored mist.

Enter Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, who alternated researching the health benefits of ginseng with smoking up to three packs of tobacco cigarettes each day. This is common in China, where more than 50% of men smoke, and it was not until Mr. Lik's father died of smoking related complications that he began searching for an alternative. Intent on creating a device that simulated the look and feel of cigarettes, but without the harmful effects, Mr. Lik developed the modern smokeless cigarette, which, when inhaled, resembles the sensation of smoking, but actually only produces a harmless vapor. The product was ready for worldwide export in 2005, and the company Hon Lik worked for, Ruyan (translated as "to resemble smoking"), received the first international patent in 2007.

Since smokeless cigarettes became available for global purchase, sales have seen steady increase. A dozen manufacturers compete for market share, working within the confines of legislation that varies across city, state, and country borders. With the boom in internet shopping, smokeless cigarettes are available to nearly everyone, as long as import is not banned, and in recent months, word of mouth and grassroots campaigns have sent sales skyrocketing.

On November 1, 2011, the United Kingdom's PR Web group announced that smokers become visible to be embracing electronic cigarettes with increasing enthusiasm. Florida's South Beach Smoke indicated a sales increase of 60% in only two weeks, and the UK's Vcig reported growth in starter kit sales of 200% in a single month. Every indication is that smokers are switching from tobacco based products to electronic nicotine delivery, as evidenced by Marlboro's third quarter decline in volume of 9%.

Electronic cigarettes are quickly advancing as consumers look to move away from the health risks of customary tobacco smoking. As demand goes up, every expectation is that the device will be refined, improved, and priced lower, making it more convenient and budget friendly for users. Though long-term studies are not yet available, users advocate for the health benefits of electronic cigarettes, as they maintain that freedom from carcinogenic chemicals makes these the best option.

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