Vampire Vape has a proud history and was front and centre in the very early days of vaping in the United Kingdom, back when vapers gathered in a small pub in Shropshire to celebrate their shared interest. From a small table selling a handful of products to enthusiasts, we have blossomed to help tens of thousands of people to switch – but how did this all come about?

Who is Hon Lik?

Many believe the inventor of the electronic cigarette was Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, who wanted something to help him quit smoking following his father’s death. Lik had been using nicotine replacement patches and concluded that they simply didn’t deliver the ‘hit’ that smokers enjoy from tobacco. This spurred him onto his quest to develop something that was more like a cigarette in terms of looks and use.

In 2003, he utilised a high frequency piezoelectric device to deliver enable a coil of wire to heat a nicotine containing liquid; the vapour it produced could be inhaled and exhaled like smoke.

Naming it the Ruyan e-cigarette, it was the first example of what became popularly known as a cigalike. A light-emitting diode at the end glowed red to resemble tobacco leaves combusting, sucking on the end primed the electronic circuit, and most importantly it worked for Lik.

He moved on to selling the device in a few forms: the cigalike; one resembling a cigar; and a third that looked like a pipe. They are pale imitations of what we find on the market today but laid the groundwork for what was to become.

Available in just tobacco and mint flavours, they were limited by small batteries and poor nicotine delivery, but they spawned imitations. Towards the end of the decade, other flavours were being used such as coffee tobacco as the nascent vaping community was busy sharing information on how to make products perform better and sharing recipes for homemade e-liquids.

What came before Hon Lik’s e-cigarette?

Joseph Robinson filed a patent in 1927. It was approved three years later but was never used to develop a product for sale. It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that Herbert Gilbert filed a patent for a device like Lik’s.

Gilbert actually developed nicotine-free prototypes but failed to find anyone who would put the idea onto the market. In a rare interview in 2013, he said: “Those I showed it to could have done it but they chose to wait for the patent to expire and then filed their own versions. I showed it to chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies and tobacco companies and they did what they did to try to protect their markets. I am sure that many great inventions that could have benefited people, in the past and even today, receive the same treatment. As John Cameron pointed out to me, timing can be everything and I was ahead of my time, and in the midst of what some might say was the most powerful advertising period of big tobacco.”

How did vaping take off in the United Kingdom?

From 2003 until 2009, vaping was a very minor activity in the UK. A handful of companies were selling basic vape products, but marketing was negligeable and the growth was through word of mouth to a very close-knit community.

Unlike any product previously, vaping appeared to inspire ex-smokers to share their experiences with others online and in their work or friendship circles. The first online forum was created, UK Vapers, which gave rise to others, one of which is Planet of the Vapes that is still thriving and the largest outside America with 60,000 members.

Many e-liquid and manufacturing businesses sprang up through these online social media networks inspired in part by the creation of the vapemeet (vapers meeting in small groups in a pub) and then a national event called Vapefest. With numbers flocking to join forums and Vapefest growing in an exponential fashion it was clear something incredible was happening across the country.

From a few thousand ecig users, by 2015 the Office of National Statistics revealed just how huge this was becoming: “In Great Britain, there were 2.3 million current e-cigarette users, around 4% of the population. There were 4 million former users of e-cigarettes and a further 2.6 million people who said they had tried an e-cigarette but never went on to use it.”

“We don’t know what’s in it?”

Public health officials, tobacco controllers, smoking cessation centres and politicians were blindsided by this sensation. Unless they were smokers themselves, few had heard or understood what electronic cigarettes were.

Scientists and academics were also languishing behind the curve. One of the first to begin researching e-cig vapour was a Greek cardiologist called Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos.

One of Farsalinos’ first studies looked at carcinogens in eliquid and he remained one of the few to understand that dry burning a coil and wick could distort findings – something some researchers still don’t appreciate. His later work would go on to play a big part in the UK becoming a leading light in the realm of tobacco harm reduction.

Smoking cessation clinics found themselves meeting smokers who spoke about wanting to vape, but it took Louise Ross and the Leicester Quit service to prompt a seismic shift in the NHS. On her retirement, she wrote: “The Leicester City Stop Smoking Service introduced the notion of switching to e-cigarettes in 2014, and my own awakening from sceptic to advocate is well-known. Every reporting Quarter since then has shown a consistently better quit rate among those who have used e-cigarettes, for both those who have also used nicotine replacement treatments as well and those who vaped exclusively.”

Louise drove changes in other quit services, encouraged mental health units to embrace vaping, and frequently spoke to NHS Trusts to encourage them to allow vaping on site. She continues her advocacy work with the New Nicotine Alliance, a consumer charity staffed by volunteers dedicated to promoting the evidence about the relative safety of alternative nicotine products.

95% Safer

The dam broke when Public Health England announced vaping “is at least 95% safer than smoking”. Research groups sprang up and we moved from a position where almost nothing was known to hundreds of research papers being published every month.

With support in Parliament from a dedicated cross-party group for vaping, the UK is now changing the legislation. A simple product has become a consumer driven revolution, from old style mesh gennys to modern pod systems, and now stands to end tobacco use in our lifetime, helping to achieve the government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition – something Hon Lik never visualised eighteen years ago.