A Brief History of E-Cig / Vape Design and Evolution

Electronic Cigarettes have been evolving at a rapid pace over the last 5 years and with a dizzying array of options hitting the market at an ever faster rate.    The earliest "cig-alike" models were a great start and upgrades and changes were slow at first, but then something truly amazing happened when early ecig enthusiasts started hacking their off the shelf models to increase the performance and create more vapor,  add more power and increased battery life. 


Two images of the earliest first generation Ruyan E-Cigs 

Electronic Cigaretts Generation 1.0 

Modern Electronic Cigarettes were first developed  sometime in 2003/2004 by a Chinese pharmacist and heavy smoker named Hon Lik.  Hon Lik set out to develop electronic cigarettes after his father died of lung cancer. Seeing a way to transform tragedy into a positive, he created a method that enabled smokers to have nicotine through inhalation, without smoke, tobacco, and the many thousands of chemicals that are part of the production of cigarettes.  He named his company Ruyan, meaning “like smoke.  After a lot of research and trial and error, Hon Lik released his smoking alternative to the  public in 2004. Hon Lik’s first electronic cigarette consisted of a battery, a plastic cartridge containing a nicotine solution suspended in propylene glycol, and a heating element composed of an ultrasonic atomizer.

Many companies soon copied the Ruyan's design but in 2006,   two brothers named Umer and Tariq Sheikh based in the UK made a big breakthrough when they invented the cartomizer.  A cartomizer is a mechanism that integrates the heating coil into the liquid chamber. They launched this new device in the UK in 2008 under their Gamucci brand and the design is now widely adopted by most "cigalike" brands. 

Most early generation electronic cigarettes looked and felt like a traditional tobacco cigarette—what the industry now refers to as “cig-alikes.” Small and light, these try to mimic many of the design features of real cigarettes, down to the filter pattern and the ash-like LED tip that lights up when the device is activated.  

Cig-alikes dominated the market for number of years but as time wore on,  a new subculture began to emerge who were hell bent on improving the performance of cigalikes.  Made up of former smokers who used e-cigs to quit, these e-cig evangelists shared their quitting stories, encouraged one another to stay off "analogs" and swapped advice and DIY ways to improve the performance of stock models via the emerging omnipresent internet on interactive websites like Electronic Cigarette Forum or ECF.  It was the perfect confluence of two relatively new technologies which enabled hundreds of thousands of e-cig users from around the world to share insights on ways to "Mod" the stock ecigs and eventually to building custom e-cigs from the ground up. 

OPEN SYSTEM VAPORIZERS (Tanks):  Generation 2.0

Photo Credit: http://vaping360.com/

Ecigs vs Vaporizers 

Fueled by hobbyist innovations shared online via forums like ECF and others, sometime around 2011 the first generation of Open Tank Systems started to hit the market.  These "Open System’ vaporizers consist of interchangeable batteries with open tanks or clearomisers.  What makes these products ‘open system’ is the fact that users have a lot more flexibility in what they can do with them. They can use a vast range of different e-liquids, all sorts of different battery types, including ‘variable voltage’; they can take advantage of multiple types of tanks or clearomisers that suit a variety of performance and aesthetic needs.  

2014 was a turning point for the E-Cig/Vaporizer market.    Market Watch reported that open system vaporizers have officially surpassed the earlier generation “cigalike” electronic cigarettes to top the market. It wasn’t even a close call with open system vapes selling $500 million more per year. This is an eye opening look at how the ecig world is changing and what vapers prefer when it comes to their gear.  

MODS and the New Generation of Sub Ohm Tanks - Generation 3.0



With hobbyists insatiable pursuit of better performance, and the growing economic incentive to spur corporate R&D, innovations kept coming from all directions.  

A modded flashlight was one of the first common e-cig battery “mods,” and is the the grandfather of a lot of the current e cig mech mods you’ll see on the market today. Flashlights were easy to work with since they’re just comprised of a hollow tube for batteries, a switch, and threading where you’re supposed to screw in your light bulb. With a greater power source came many other innovations - so many in fact that I could fill up pages and pages of various innovations with technical nerd speak about wattage, variable wattage, rebuildable atomizers, ohms, etc. One thing for sure, this new generation of "MODS" was not your father's e-cig.  They were in some ways highly evolved yet in others very simple designs.   The one thing that they all did was increase the amount of vapor production as well as the releasing the full flavors of the also evolving e-liquids available on the market. 


With mods it took a lot of know how to build, operate and maintain these devices. Despite these drawbacks, their popularity mushroomed and soon you started seeing people using them blowing big clouds of vapor in their cars, walking down the street and outside of bars.   

Eventually the engineers at some of the big vaporizer hardware companies caught on and got to work to replicate the experience of using a Mod without the hassle and engineering know how.  In 2014, Aspire released it's newest tank called the Atlantis.  The Atlantis was the first Sub-Ohm tank to hit the market and the vaporizer market has really evolved rapidly since it's introduction.   

To simplify, sub Ohm vaping uses much more power to spread a larger amount of heat over a much larger area, which causes more e-liquid to be vaporized in one moment.  If you really want to geek out and learn more about the science of this, check out  Ohm's law video - The Arduino Guide 

As a result, Sub Ohm vaping has created this new era in vaping where it doesn’t take a lot of experience to reach a high performance with much more vapor production and much better flavor delivery from e-liquids.

The Sub Ohm Revolution has only just begun and will be the topic of my next blog post. Stay Tuned!    


kurt sonderegger
kurt sonderegger


Founder/CEO of Cafe Racer Craft E-Liquid

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