Has Hon Lik, the Inventor of E-Cigarettes, betrayed vapers?

November 05, 2016 4 min read

Has Hon Lik, the Inventor of E-Cigarettes, betrayed vapers?

Creators are often expected to guard their creations against those who would seek to deface or devalue their life’s work.  They are the ones who stand to lose recognition and actual monetary loss if this is done, so one expects that they would fight harder than anyone else to see this does not happen. Great debate now rages in the vaping community whether the so called inventor of e-cigarettes Hon Lik has turned his back on the authentic product to side with vaping's biggest rival - The Big Tobacco. Just for background, I call Hon Lik the “so called inventor” of e-cigs because technically as he did not invent the concept of e-cigs (that was Herbert A Gilbert in 1963) he was the first person to, however, turn Gilbert’s vision into a working reality. Certain factors made it impossible for Gilbert to produce a working and effective e-cig. At the time he came up with the idea, the technology necessary to make e-cigs possible was not yet there (specifically the high capacity lithium ion batteries) and smoking was still a social favourite amongst many people.

Hon Lik, the Inventor of E Cigarettes

Driven by personal tragedy as he lost his father to lung cancer and was personally struggling to quit smoking via patches he decided to create something that would provide an alternative and hopefully save him from the same fate as his father. As established above he did not come up with the idea but he was the first person to give us e-cigarettes as we came to know them by putting in the time and care to come up with a workable product. Initially he experimented with ultrasound technology to create the vapour but the droplets proved too large and lacked the same feel as smoke. He in time came up with the idea of using a resistance heater which gave him much better results and he went on to register his patent in 2003.

Hon Lik, the Inventor of E Cigarettes: Traitor or Traditionalist?

Hon has not made a lot of money from his creation as one would believe or expect. Many e-cigarette manufacturers have skirted around his patent and initial design to make different and more modern models with little or no recompense to Lik. He is still part of the vaping industry but working for Fontem Ventures which happens to be a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco. This is one of the contentious issues that is said to point at Lik’s split loyalties to the vaping fraternity. Further compounding Lik’s affiliation, even loosely with Big Tobacco is the fact that in 2014 he sold all his patent rights to Imperial Tobacco. Soon after this Fontem Ventures began to clamp down on supposed patent infringements by competing vaping companies. This move on Lik’s part could have been a survival tactic and away to finally truly benefit from his creation.  He had a running battle suing would be infringers of his patent but like most people he probably got tired and took what most feel was the “easy way” out and sold his rights to the enemy. This handover of power to Big Tobacco has jeopardised the free market and DIY-ers all over.

In one fell swoop Hon Lik the inventor of e-cigarettes had let go of his creation and taken a back seat. An interview with Motherboard magazine did nothing to allay these fears and accusations that he had turned his back on his invention. It could be argued that his point of view was that of a traditional purist who had invented the e-cigarette with only one purpose and design in mind. So all these new premium e-juice flavours and plays on mods etc to him seemed like bastardizations of an already superior creation. Hon was asked about his views about the different e-liquid flavours now sprouting out all over the market. He felt that they were not what ex-smokers who he believed were his main market were looking for, they were seeking something that almost resembled actual cigarettes without the harming effects.  He went as far as describing these e-juice flavours as a “fashion product” an assertion many vapers took offence to. Many vapers who were ex-smokers from all over Europe and America attributed their quitting to the use of different premium e-juice flavours (doughnuts, ice-cream sandwich, whipped cream, frapes, etc) that were not tobacco flavours. This was pointed out to him and his response was that Americans tended to like more sugar than the average Chinese person. Sounds ridiculous and an indication that he is just blindly opposed to open systems.

In another interview, he went against the modding community by stating that most people were looking for a simple device and nothing fancy - another ill-informed statement. Most vapers do start off with the basic cig-a-like model but with time they chose more eGo-style devices or mods. He, however, did express an almost mainstream idea that by selling off to The Big Tobacco and getting more involved in the vaping industry, it would allow vaping to spread more prominently while tasking them with a fair share of social responsibility. This was a well received statement because it did make sense and was not necessarily too right wing.

The true question from reading all this still remains, is Hon Lik, the inventor of e-cigarettes, a traitor to the vaping community? He sold off his patent rights to The Big Tobacco, which negatively affected other smaller vaping industries and killed off some competition, he has expressed some concerning views that many feel are out of touch with reality and he remains working for The Big Tobacco. On the face of this, yes, he does seem to have defected to evil Big Tobacco, but a closer and more dispassionate look would say otherwise. Hon’s sentiments are based on an old way of thinking that refuse to bridge with the more modern and evolved way of thinking in the vape community. Hon Lik is a purist of high form to the exclusion of all else that is modern. His ignorance does not necessarily make him a traitor of the vaping community. He is living in his own tobacco flavoured cloud chasing his own traditional agenda making him a loyal but divergent voice in a world where vaping has now grown beyond his original vision but a traitor he is not.

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