So humans have been using burning leaves for over 1000 years to deal with a tough day at the office or to enhance a good time.
And amazingly placing the burning leaf in something to make that easier (a cigarette) is almost as old.
Europe got in on the act after long visits to South America with the Turkish being the early adopters.
The Crimean War was the perfect opportunity to entrench the idea among soldiers that tried to kill others with weapons and themselves with cigarettes (the French coined the term). Those that survived took the habit back to their home countries.
Comedian Bob Newhart imagines how the English learnt about cigarettes.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and even addicts have to acknowledge that smoking cigarettes is bad for you.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 5 million people die annually as a direct consequence. One in seven people on the planet smoke and half of them are destined to end their life as a consequence of it.
Even so, it is still a R8 trillion industry.
The principal danger in cigarettes is not the active ingredient nicotine, but the various additives to ensure the nicotine containing tobacco leaves burn evenly.
So the solution would be to turn the nicotine into a vapor by some other means - say electrically.
In 2004 a device using a heating coil to turn nicotine oil into a vapour was introduced.
Vaping, as is it often referred to, is now a recognised word. Google’s Ngram viewer which indexes the presence of words in English since 1800 lists “cigarette” first appearing in 1859 and peaking in 2003, one year before the personal vaporiser hit the shelves.
Even so, they did not become a thing in SA until a few years ago. Now, you would be surprised to find someone over 40 that has not quit or switched to the little metal tube.
The "genius" that conceived the e-cigarette is Hon Lik who created it in 2003.
The idea though can be credited to the creators of Robo-Hunter in the comic 2000AD. They created an electronic cigar called Carlos Sanchez Robo Stogie in 1978! The idea was that the robotic cigar with plenty of attitude and a Mexican accent would slowly reduce the nicotine intake of its owner. In reality, that part remains to be developed.
Besides older smokers switching as a way to kick the habit, the nifty gadgets have been compelling accessories for millennials wanting to experience the buzz but not the hazard (not that there are not risks).
The new industry has grown from effectively zero to R35 billion in seven years.
That has lead the tobacco industry to have a Kodak moment. No, not a selfie moment, but the chance to review what their real business is and if they will try beat the new kid on the block or buy it. They chose to buy it.
It might be a great idea as the younger users are not only keen but, like most “new” industries, the regulators are scrambling to keep up and that regulation vacuum is rapidly filling with vapor.
The footnote is that while the electronic cigarette popularity has been fueled by tobacco, the recent legalising of marijuana in the US has seen hash oil become a very popular alternative for vaporizers.
Smokers might be dying but it appears the market for smoking thanks to these new devices is set to grow.
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