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The Evolution of the E-Cigarette

You may be wondering where this marvellous, high-tech device came from.

The modern e-cig was invented in 2003 by the chemist Hon Lik, the patent for the device was filed and the manufacture of the first e-cig was started in Beijing, China that year.

Hon Lik with his invention

Hon Lik was at the time working as a chemist for Liaoning Provincial Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He was apparently smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
After failing to quit cold turkey twice and rejecting nicotine patches (they gave him nightmares when he forgot to take them off before he went to sleep) he began developing a device that would atomise a nicotine solution using ultrasound.

While a moderate success, this device didn’t quite remind him enough of smoking, and he designed and built a device that we recognise as an e-cig today, using a coil of heated wire to create the vapour.


Since its initial invention the e-cig has changed form and design hugely, but the original workings have remained almost exactly the same, using a battery to provide power to an element that vaporises a nicotine containing solution.

The very first e-cigs that were commercially available in the UK were in the form of disposable models that looked very similar to traditional cigarettes. These devices were for the most part low-power and had a sealed section housing the e-liquid and coil known as a cartomiser.
They were widely regarded at the time as being revolutionary, although these days are seen as mostly out-dated technology.

Not long after that somebody realised that you could replace the battery with a rechargeable model and sell packs of prefilled cartomisers, extending the life of the device hugely.

These new devices, known as ‘cig-a-likes’ because they still looked similar to the traditional ‘analogue’ cigarette, gained a dedicated following with some even continuing to use them today even though other options have become available. These devices are known as ‘1st Generation’ e-cigs (like the TABseries. Click here to view.)

The next advancement came when cartomisers were replaced by tanks into which users could put their own e-liquid. People had been taking apart cartomisers and filling the wicking material inside with e-liquids they had purchased and someone decided this was a good idea.

The first refillable e-cigs came in three parts; the battery (a more powerful, larger version of the previous cig-a-like battery), an atomiser and a tank. The tank would often take the form of a small plastic mouthpiece with a sealable cap.
The vaper would put a few drops of e-liquid into the cap, seal it and insert it into the atomiser portion, inside which was a post that would pierce the cap and allow liquid to touch the atomising element.
The whole assembly was then screwed onto the battery and used. This system was eventually updated with the ability to replace the atomiser coil without having to get a whole new central section.

Eventually the atomiser section was combined with the tank section into the clearomiser we know today.
These are known as ‘2nd Generation’ devices (like the Cyclone CE4 Starter Kit)

The innovation didn’t stop there either; as well as the tanks, the batteries also saw some great advances in tech.

Starting with variable voltage. When people realise that you could control the sensation of your vape simply by adding a capacitor to the battery the whole world of vaping changed. Larger batteries with wider voltage ranges started to be introduced.

Then the modders arrived. Taking apart their e-cigs and putting them into other devices, they were laying the groundwork for what we know collectively as Mods today.

The first full mods were usually powered by large batteries usually reserved for torches, with odd sizes like 18650 or 18500, these devices were very powerful. This is around the time people realised that you could easily make you own atomiser coils at home with wire and silicon wick.
Since then the rebuildable atomiser scene has become huge, with at least one new dripper being released per month.

Once the modders started to put regulating chips into their devices we ended up with a much safer ‘Mod’, which could be mass marketed. This lead to a rise in the number of easily obtainable variable voltage mods. Mostly based on a tube design to reflect their beginnings as torches or similar.

Variable wattage came next, it being an offshoot of variable voltage and, for the most part, is entirely the same.

Box shaped mods started to become popular with the mainstream vaper around a year or so ago. Now most new devices released are box-mods, with very few tube-mods being created at all.
Mods and all the various small advances made to and because of them are known as ‘3rd Generation’ (like the Innokin Cool Fire IV)

The most recent big advance in vaping technology (at the time of writing) is temperature variable devices.

Using nickel or titanium to build atomiser coils allows the vaper to adjust not the voltage or wattage output of the battery, but the temperature that the coil reaches.
This is possible through a particular quirk of physics with these particular metals whereby their resistance increases a measurable amount as their temperature increases.
By ensuring the metal gets to a certain resistance (through the use of microchips the measure resistance) you can give an accurate temperature gauge within about 10 degrees. This allows the vaper to select the very best temperature to ensure they find a flavours ‘sweet spot’ and keep their coils intact for longer by keeping the temperature just below where it would burn the wick.


Electronic cigarettes have come a long way since they were first invented, and there’s always something new to try, so keep vaping and keep checking back with TABlites!

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