The number of people smoking in the UK has fallen consistently since 1999 and has only increased once since the 1981 crossover point when the number of people who had quit smoking overtook the number of current smokers for the first time.
There are a lot of reasons for these statistics, from increased awareness not only of the dangers of smoking but how large tobacco companies had lied and obfuscated these dangers, the latter of which was the subject of a class-action lawsuit, to the increasing availability and range of stop smoking aids.
Most recently, this has included vape hardware, which can not only supply nicotine to reduce the physical cravings that can lead to smoking but also help psychologically, as they deliver nicotine in a very similar way to cigarettes but with 95 per cent less harm.
This is the conclusion of a long and somewhat fraught journey for vaping and e-cigarettes, which whilst having fundamental patents that date back to the 1960s took over five decades to make it onto store shelves and another decade after this to reach out to smokers as they do now.
Here is that story.
Cancer By The Carton
Whilst there had been concerns about the risks of smoking for most of the 20th century, much of it was obfuscated at the time partly through marketing that tried to obfuscate the risks and focus on much smaller harms such as coughs and tickly threats.
However, by the 1950s it was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the inconvenient truth for tobacco companies, smokers and The Flintstones that smoking was not only not good for you but actively harmful and significantly increased your risk of dying of lung cancer.
Whilst this would be confirmed by a British Medical Research Council announcement in 1957, a Royal College of Physicians report in 1962 and an outright ban on cigarette advertising in 1965, it was preempted by a popular and influential article in 1952 entitled Cancer by the Carton.
Initially published in The Christian Herald and reprinted in the December 1952 edition of Reader’s Digest, this article was far from the first about the dangers of smoking but it was one of the first to gain some serious traction.
With that said, it would take an incredibly long time for this warning to be heeded, but this is not the fault of the people who were caught in the throes of addiction.
No Meals But Cold Turkey
Amidst bans on advertising and warnings about the deleterious effects on human life, it is quite surprising that it took almost twenty years for quit rates to overlap current smokers, but it is important to note that until the 1980s, almost no smoking cessation products existed.
The original patent by Herbert A Gilbert, one that knowingly or otherwise provided the template for Dr Hon Lik and everyone who would come after him, was filed in no small part because there were very few alternatives for people who wanted to protect their health.
The only medicine available at the time that could help with tobacco cravings was clonidine, a migraine medication that at the time was sometimes prescribed to help people manage drug withdrawal symptoms.
It would take until the early 1980s for the first nicotine replacement therapy treatments to arrive, meaning that for over two decades between the first warnings about cigarettes and the arrival of nicotine gum in 1984, there were no clinically proven therapies to help people quit.
The choice was either to go cold turkey with all of the cravings, migraines and temptations that ensued or continue a habit that was at the time fashionable and thanks to incredibly aggressive albeit increasingly evasive marketing also associated with rebellion, despite peer pressure being a leading cause of smoking.
People did manage to quit, but typically the people who were most able to quit could afford to pay for top-class support and therapy to help them, and in many cases also did not smoke heavily regardless.
This would start to change in the 1980s, with several nicotine replacement products entering the market, and one that could have introduced the world to vaping three decades early.
The first was nicotine gum, which was introduced in 1984, followed by lozenges, nasal sprays, inhalers, tablets and finally patches by the early 1990s.
All of these treatments, whilst fundamentally different, work on the same principle of delivering a controlled and steady supply of nicotine to help give them the willpower during the first week when the physical cravings are at their strongest.
Around this time, an early progenitor of the modern vape and inventor of the term vaping would be launched in the mid-1980s but would be stifled by technical and legal hurdles before it had the potential to change the world the way e-cigarettes would three decades later.
Favor, despite using a term associated with e-cigarettes, did not have any electronic components, and was instead a piece of filter paper soaked in nicotine liquid and fitted into a plastic cigarette-shaped device.
Depending on who is asked, Favor’s popularity in the midwest of the United States was stopped either by a flaw that meant the filter paper went off after a few days and led to a bitter aftertaste, or the Food and Drug Administration decided they were an unregulated medication and forced them off shelves.
A Different World
Either way, it would take until 2003 for Dr Hon Lik to pick up the mantle, and even then, it would take a smoking ban, a fundamental change to his design into what we know now as the box mod and a concerted push for a smoke-free world for vapes to become as successful as they are now.
By the time it had, the world of smoking was very different, with tobacco companies being subject to a gigantic class action lawsuit settlement where after decades of coordinated denials, the four biggest tobacco companies in the world admitted the harm that cigarettes and by extension themselves had caused.
What the future holds for e-cigarettes following their use in official stop-smoking campaigns is uncertain, but what is known is that the road to reach a point where the impossible goal of a world without tobacco is closer than ever before.