Cartomiser introduced

The cartomiser made the e-cigarette a viable product. Without it, the e-cig struggled with the nicotine delivery satisfaction that would make it successful as a cessation product.

Further advances in tanks and batteries through the 2010s – that were miniaturised in the following years – really turned the devices into what they are today.

Big Tobacco buys a brand

Big Tobacco’s entry into vaping was as momentous as it was inevitable. Many of the companies may have bided their time before making a move, knowing they had the purchasing power to intervene whenever they wanted. And when that eventually happened, it led to a sea change in the sector’s reach and resources, and, perhaps most important, how it was perceived.

Lorillard took the first step in 2012 when it purchased the e-cigarette brand Blu. But it was 2014 when Big Tobacco really began to get in the game. Ownership of Blu made Lorillard particularly attractive to RJ Reynolds during their 2014 merger – a statement that seems astounding today given the more recent write-downs of Big Tobacco-owned vaping assets. Other companies began to get involved and hack away at Lorillard’s first-mover advantage, and Lorillard itself added Skycig to its portfolio in order to strengthen its position.

The arrival of tobacco companies in the sector was greeted with mixed responses, as many advocates opposed any interaction, though others saw the possibility of vaping really taking off with the help of Big Tobacco’s distribution and resources.

Diacetyl and popcorn lung

The use of diacetyl, a food-grade flavouring additive that creates buttery flavours, rocked the world of vaping. When inhaled, the additive caused severe inflammation in the lungs. This was noted in factory workers involved in the production of microwave popcorn and led to the term “popcorn lung” being coined to describe the condition, otherwise known as bronchiolitis obliterans.

The use of diacetyl in the e-cig industry was widespread, and although more-responsible companies were quick to address the issue, the possibility persisted of less-concerned operators continuing to use it. Strangely, diacetyl did not create quite the public relations nightmare for the industry as did the e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (Evali) crisis, even though Evali had less to do with nicotine vaping than diacetyl did.

ECigIntelligence had been saying for some time that “safe for ingesting” was not the same as “safe for inhaling”. The use of e-liquid ingredients that were supposedly approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was doubly misleading in this regard. It gave the impression that the product had some sort of official approval in general while at the same time misusing a food-grade approval in an inhalable product. This was something the FDA later came down on heavily.

First Cochrane Review of vaping

The first Cochrane Review of vaping was a huge plus for the industry. It verified, scientifically, what many in the industry had been insistent about for ages: vaping could be a net positive for smoking cessation.

Cochrane was the first major confirmation of this, with subsequent reviews continuing to support the conclusion buoyed by further studies. It was an important milestone for the industry considering how highly regarded Cochrane Reviews are. They are not just single studies but high-quality systematic reviews of existing evidence for medical interventions. They also have one of the highest impact factors for health publications, meaning they are frequently cited in specialist journals.

Nicotine salts

Nicotine salts marked a step up in the effectiveness of vaping products as replacements for conventional cigarettes. However, they also provided an opening for opponents to say that any products using this latest innovation were more addictive.

Nicotine salts could provide a hit similar to that of “freebase” nicotine but with a less bitter taste and more of a smoother hit than higher-dose freebase nicotine e-liquids. Such products were first popularised by Juul and then quickly spread throughout the industry to become the standard in e-liquid.


The EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) was long debated and, in some cases, feared. But in the end, outside some caps on total tank size and nicotine content, which proved annoying, the regulations were largely hands-off for vaping.

The long-anticipated revision of TPD2 stoked industry concerns that the EU could take a heavy hand to these still-emerging products. But the end result was relatively fine for the industry. Maximum nicotine concentration levels and device tank sizes were difficult to justify but also had little impact on the average vaper – despite significant protests from many advocates who had to lobby for the entirety of the consumer body and tended to be made up of “super users” who mainly used higher nicotine levels and modded devices with bigger tanks.

It is unlikely vaping will get away so untouched in the upcoming TPD3.

Introduction of US deeming regulations for vaping products

US FDA premarket tobacco product applications (PMTAs) have completely transformed the legal US vaping market from an industry point of view. The lack of enforcement, though, means not a whole lot is different for the average vaping consumer. But this may change as priorities shift.

At the time, Big Tobacco was rather optimistic about the introduction of the FDA’s deeming regulations for vaping products. It brought some order and minimum standards to the industry, and these tobacco companies felt they were in the best position to deal with PMTAs while most of their competitors would have had neither the regulatory experience nor the resources to make it through.

These days, even they must be frustrated with the lengthy timelines and exceedingly limited number of products that have gone through the process, not to mention the seemingly ever-changing guidelines on what scientific information is required.

Rise of the flavour bans

Flavour bans were the culmination of worry over an increase in vaping among young users. By limiting non-tobacco flavours it was thought youth appeal would be crushed, while the availability of tobacco and (in some cases) menthol flavours would mean vapes could still function as cessation devices.

The introduction of bans marked a major turn against vaping, and regulators and the public shifted their perception of it as a cessation product. A lack of enforcement and widespread black-market activity, though, did not alter much for many consumers.
Non-tobacco vaping flavour bans began cropping up in local jurisdictions before spreading to US statewide bans and growing to the point where countries are now locking down non-tobacco flavours out of concerns over youth appeal. San Francisco and then Massachusetts were two early adopters.

The movement has subsequently continued to grow, with even the previously vaping-friendly UK now considering whether it should implement a flavour ban.

First Juul lawsuit filed

The start of a series of lawsuits against Juul marked a change in vaping’s top dog. Before the suits started to mark a downturn for the company, Juul was generally viewed as the market share leader and most widely known brand among consumers.

Commentators were initially unsure how to take news of the cases being taken against Juul. Some of the claims being levelled against the company seemed nonsensical. Criticising a nicotine product for containing more nicotine than consumers were aware of seemed a novel complaint – particularly in relation to total nicotine rather than actual absorption.

But the lawsuits kept coming and Juul had made its own decision to use both social media and young-looking models to market its products. It was hard to argue that all the cases would result in victories for the company and, as a result, it began to look like the writing was on the wall for Juul instead.

Introduction of Elf Bar and Lost Mary

Elf Bar took over from Juul in more ways than one, becoming the best-known brand among general consumers, the market leader in almost all jurisdictions and the head above the parapet for any criticisms or concerns over vaping.

The brand itself has been around since 2018, but it was with its introduction to the US market in 2021 when it really took off. The wide variety of flavours, low retail price point and ease of use all made the devices immediately popular.

Retailers also moved to replace Juul and other cartridge-based devices, which became subject to a priority enforcement order and not a full ban as is often mistakenly stated. Elf Bar’s rise did somewhat precede that ban coming into effect, as users and retailers moved away from Juul and similar products due to ongoing lawsuits and derivative bad publicity.

Elf Bar is now the vaping brand that most consumers know. It’s also the one subject to the most scrutiny, enforcement and criticism – much like Juul a few years prior.