In the beginning, there was China

In 2003, a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik developed a device to allow smokers to have a “smoking” experience without actually inhaling combusted tobacco. Hon’s father had died from lung cancer and he himself was a smoker who wanted to quit. He patented his device and the company he worked for changed its name to Ruyan (meaning “like smoke”).

There had been previous stabs at developing a “smokeless cigarette” by other inventors and even by tobacco companies, but for various reasons no one got as far as actually making and selling a commercial product. After Hon Lik launched the Ruyan device, it was about three years before e-cigarettes made their way to Europe and the United States.

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