B. Here to harm or here to help?

Hon Lik

Hon Lik, Captured by Wang Zhao, n.d.

The use of electronic cigarettes, better known as “vaping”, mimics the look and feel of smoking through heating up chemicals in a cartridge which is then inhaled by the user (Fairchild, A. et al, 2014). These devices were designed by 52 year old pharmacist, inventor and smoker, Hon Lik from Beijing, China in 2003 (CASAA, 2016) after his father who was a heavy smoker died of lung cancer. Hon Lik wanted to minimise the use of tobacco by creating a tobacco-less product which still gave the user a nicotine hit. Hon Lik’s invention was the seed which sprouted a billion dollar industry, which now sees tobacco companies owning all of the top e-cigarette brands (Greenhalgh, E., & Scollo, M. 2016). 

Now… without a critical eye as of yet, and assuming the intentions were pure, the e-cigarette initiative was a transdisciplinary design which created conversation around alternatives to tobacco smoking. But with heavy investment now made by the tobacco industry, are we merely consuming the harmful collateral of marketing extraordinaries, giving more money to tobacco tycoons (Cheney, M. et al, 2015)?

Hon Lik graduated from a Traditional Chinese Medicine college, where he majored in Pharmarcy. Post graduation, Lik spent over ten years working in plant agriculture, while developing a system which used food additives as solvents vaporised by ultrasound to help combat his smoking habits (Blu UK,2016). Lik’s initial design used a transdisciplinary approach to create a well informed product with good intentions. This bottom-up approach started from one individuals experimentation into dealing with tobacco issues.


Tobacco Fields, Keith Taylor, 2013

Once patenting the product, the commercial use become fanatical before enough research was conducted to know if this design was a solution to an issue, or if it became part of the issue itself. In 2015, an estimated 35 million people were recorded as regular users of vapour products and the market was estimated to be worth 7.1 billion US dollars (Greenhalgh, E., & Scollo, M. 2016). 

The tobacco industry is heavily investing in this product which shows a projected increase in popularity, highlighting the possibility of reliance and addiction (Cheney, M. et al, 2015). There is definitely a path that can be taken with this design to help combat the tobacco issues we have, however with the more momentum this fad gains, the more open it is to being morally and ethically questioned. 

Research such as the one conducted by (Caponnetto P, et al. 2014) shows that we can definitely adapt Hon Lik’s design to help combat the issue and see preferential changes, however we must develop this product to make it a healthier alternative. We must remain aware of the companies and industries that are supporting the evolution of such products to assure that the general population are making educated and informed decisions rather than buying in to new-age marketing tactics. 

Is Vaping Healthier?, WIRED, Youtube, 2016



  1. blu UK. (2016). Hon Lik: The Man Who Invented Vaping. [online] Available at: https://www.blu.com/en/GB/blog/about/hon-lik–the-man-who-invented-vaping/hon-lik-man-invented-vaping-2.html?countryselect=true (Accessed 27 Nov. 2018)
  2. Caponnetto P, Campagna D, Cibella F, Morjaria JB, Caruso M, Russo C, et al. (2014) Correction: EffiCiency and Safety of an eLectronic cigAreTte (ECLAT) as Tobacco Cigarettes Substitute: A Prospective 12-Month Randomized Control Design Study. PLoS ONE 9(1): https://doi.org/10.1371/annotation/e12c22d3-a42b-455d-9100-6c7ee45d58d0
  3. CASAA. (2016). Historical Timeline of Electronic Cigarettes. [online] Available at: http://www.casaa.org/historical-timeline-of-electronic-cigarettes (Accessed 27 Nov. 2018)
  4. Cheney, M., Gowin, M., & Wann, T. F. (2015). Marketing practices of vapor store owners. American journal of public health, 105(6), e16-21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4431105/ 
  5. Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems and Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS/ENNDS). (2016). In: Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. [online] Delhi, India: WHO Framework Convention, pp.1-7. Available at: https://www.who.int/fctc/cop/cop7/FCTC_COP_7_11_EN.pdf (Accessed 27 Nov. 2018)
  6. Fairchild, A., Bayer, R. and Colgrove, J. (2014). The Renormalization of Smoking? E-Cigarettes and the Tobacco “Endgame”. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(4), pp.293-295 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1313940
  7. Greenhalgh, E., & Scollo, M. (2016) InDepth 18B: Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2016. Available from: http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-18-harm-reduction/indepth-18b-e-cigarettes
  8. NSW Health. (2018). Ban the use of e-cigarettes in smoke-free public places – Tobacco and Smoking. [online] Available at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/tobacco/Pages/use-ecigs-in-public-places.aspx (Accessed 27 Nov. 2018)
  9. Taylor, K. (2013). Tobacco Fields. [image] Available at: http://www.keithtaylorphotography.com/landscape-photography-southern-living-tobacco-fields-morris-west-and-life-perspective (Accessed 27 Nov. 2018)
  10. WIRED (2016). Is Vaping Healthier than Smoking?. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFSuRu5zZNc (Accessed 27 Nov. 2018)
  11. Zhao, W. (2016). Hon Lik enjoying a vape. [image] Available at: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/kb7gey/we-asked-the-inventor-of-the-e-cigarette-what-he-thinks-about-vape-regulations-5886b747f672c2456363054c (Accessed 27 Nov. 2018)

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