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The First Ever Vape Was Not An Electronic Cigarette

With the growing popularity of vaping as an alternative to smoking to help people to quit the habit, there is a common conflation between the term “vape” and electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

To a degree, this is not surprising given that most devices on the market use largely the same technology that Dr Hon Lik developed in 2003 where vape liquid or salts are heated to produce a vapour as an alternative to potentially dangerous tobacco smoke.

However, one of the most notable exceptions to this rule was first sold nearly 20 years before this and did not actually have any moving parts, let alone electronic components.

It could have potentially changed the smoking world and created a smoke-free future decades before the smoking ban and the rise of vaping, were it not for a series of events that are controversial to this day.


Smoking Without The Smoke

The Favour cigarette was not the first vaping device, with patents by Joseph Robinson dating back as early as 1927, but it was the first to be commercialised and advertised.

It worked largely like a theatrical cigarette; it consisted of a cigarette-shaped plastic tube with a filter paper inside it soaked with liquid nicotine. The user would inhale the nicotine without the need for combustion or smoke, which meant avoiding many of the toxic byproducts of cigarettes.

Phil Ray and Dr Norman Jacobson developed the product and formed the company Advanced Tobacco Products in 1986 to develop it, with Mr Ray’s wife Brenda Coffee coining the term “vaping” to describe a product very different to a typical cigarette.

It was released in several stores in California and other Southwestern states in the USA, marketing itself as an alternative only for smokers, complete with cigarette-style boxes and cigarette-style applicators.

It seemed to be destined for success. However, it was rapidly pulled from the market in 1987 for one of two potential reasons.

Dr Jacobson believes that the problem was caused by nicotine’s volatility, which causes it to evaporate and turn into the bitter cotinine metabolite, making it far less enjoyable to consume and giving the vape an exceedingly short shelf life without being refrigerated.

This may have still succeeded, but the Food and Drug Administration placed an even bigger barrier in ATP’s way in the form of a legal notice.

At the time e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery systems had just come on the radar of the FDA, which deemed Favor to be a drug delivery device and therefore needed to be registered as such before it could be used.

Rather than go through the process of trying to make the product legitimate, ATP simply cut their losses and ceased distributing Favor altogether, leaving a gap in the market that would not be filled for decades.

The debate about consuming nicotine separate from the commonly known issues with cigarettes has continued to this day and this has shaped the landscape of the vaping market and the place e-cigarettes and vapes have in efforts to stop people from smoking.