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Hon Lik: The Godfather Of Vape

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Estimated 4 min read

As the popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping continues to boom, companies all over the world are enjoying the financial rewards of an industry set to hit approximately $46.9 billion by 2025, according to Global E-cigarette & Vaporizer Device & Aftermarket – Analysis & Forecast 2016-2025.


Snapshot of the global e-cigarette market values for e-cigarette device types and aftermarket (e-liquids, atomizer, and batteries)

Over the last few years the industry has completely evolved and changed, so let’s take a step back in time and remind ourselves of just how we got to where we are today.

Lets go back to 2001, the year that marked the humble beginnings of a man who identified a growing social problem of tobacco use; a man who thought he could make a difference.

Hon Lik, a pharmacist from Shenyang in north-east China, tried everything to kick his habit of being a heavy smoker such as using high dose nicotine patches in the hopes to not meet the same fate of his father who died from smoking-related disease.

It’ll come as no surprise that this method of alternative nicotine delivery did not see him quit, like many others in the world who struggle on a daily basis.

Even after years of working on simpler ways for people to kick the habit – such as creating Chinese remedies using ginseng and deer antler – it was after a night of bad dreams and restlessness from sleeping with a nicotine patch that the revelations of this iconic inventor were born, leading to the evolution and birth of what we now know as the e-cigarette.

Hon dreamed he was drowning in a sea that turned into a giant cloud of vapor and says the nightmare inspired him to create a cigarette that produced vapor instead of smoke.

Talk about dreams manifesting into reality!

hon lik first e-cig

“My real passion, like many other inventors, is to leave some trace behind.”

2003 was the year he came up with the the idea of using a high frequency, piezoelectric ultrasound-emitting element to vaporize a pressurized jet of liquid containing nicotine.

This design was created to simulate the sensation of smoking, creating a smoke-like vapor that delivers nicotine. Later that year he filed the patent for a device and in 2004 the first e-cigarette was manufactured in Beijing, China.

Hon Lik presented his idea to the bosses at Golden Dragon Holdings who decided to change the name of the company to Ruyan (which means “Like Smoke”) Group (Holdings) Limited. Hon Lik became a shareholder and mass production was underway.

By 2006 his products became so popular that they couldn’t keep up with the demand, despite the 24-hour a day manufacturing.

First gen e-cig

Forward to 2018, with reports that the industry is set to hit approximately $46.9 billion by 2025 you’d assume that Hon Lik would be the billionaire godfather of us all, seeing as he invented and patented the modern e-cigarette. Right?

Not even close.

In 2006, just as Hon Lik’s first commercial product started flying off the shelves, a series of negative Chinese media reports slammed the new technology, describing them as highly addictive and responsible for heart attacks.

As this was a period of infancy for the industry it’s no wonder sales took a massive hit. It was also just in time for an explosion of copycat products with minor modifications to begin circulating all over China and the USA.

Hon Lik was never really compensated for his patent, but did settle many lawsuits out of court in the following years. Even so, he was still coming off second-best to the companies who continue to profit off his invention to this day.

“If you are looking at the house I live in, it is average, and the car I am driving I did not buy,” Hon says. “It is a Volvo SUV. Before I started developing e-cigarettes, I had already made my success through the small-scale, very niche company I worked for. My family and I were pretty well rewarded. They do not have to work that much any more.”

Imperial Tobacco bought Hon Lik’s patents in 2014 for $75 million and Dragonite International Limited’s (formerly known as Ruyan) electronic cigarette division, making him CEO.

This acquisition turned Hon into quite the controversial figure among the vaping industry, being labeled as a sellout for succumbing to “Big Tobacco”.

After taking such a hit and losing out on all of his well deserved millions, I guess he made the right choice.

As they say: if you can’t beat them, join them.

Currently based in Sydney Australia. Ex-Smoker who has spent the last 3 years heavily involved in the vape industries of the USA, UK, and Australia.. Get In touch, Ryan@vapetrotter.com

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