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.