Background Use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) is increasing rapidly. Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik is frequently cited as inventing the modern e-cigarette in 2003. However, tobacco companies have developed electronic nicotine delivery systems since at least 1963.
Methods We searched the University of California San Francisco Truth (formerly Legacy) Tobacco Industry Documents beginning with the terms ‘electric cigarette’ and ‘electronic cigarettes’, ‘e-cigarette’, ‘smokeless cigarettes’, ‘nicotine aerosol’, ‘tobacco aerosol’, and ‘vaping’ and then expanded the search using snowball sampling. We focused our analysis on Philip Morris (PM) documents discussing technology that aerosolised a nicotine solution because these devices resembled modern e-cigarettes. Over 1000 documents were reviewed; 40 were included in the final analysis.
Results PM started developing a nicotine aerosol device in 1990 to address the health concerns and decreased social acceptability of smoking that were leading smokers to switch to nicotine replacement therapy. PM had developed a capillary aerosol generator that embodied basic e-cigarette technology in 1994, but in the mid-to-late 1990s focused on applying its aerosol technology to pharmaceutical applications because of uncertainty of how such products might affect potential Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco products. In 2001, PM resumed its work on a nicotine aerosol device, and in 2013, NuMark (a division of Altria, PM's parent company) released the MarkTen, a nicotine aerosol device.
Conclusions Rather than a disruptive technology, PM developed e-cigarette technology to complement, not compete with, conventional cigarettes and evade tobacco control regulations.
- Electronic nicotine delivery devices
- Tobacco industry
- Tobacco industry documents
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Contributors LMD and RG did the documents searches and drafted the manuscript. All three authors (LMD, RG, SAG) contributed to editing the manuscript and revising the manuscript in response to the reviewers' and editors' feedback.
Funding This work was supported by National Cancer Institute Grants CA-087472, CA-113710 and 1P50CA180890 from the National Cancer Institute and FDA Center for Tobacco Products.
Disclaimer The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the US FDA.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement All source materials are available in the UCSF Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library, available at http://industrydocuments.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco or on other publicly available websites.