Interview with Hon Lik, inventor of the e-cig. The inventor explains: “The e-cig, from a simple tobacco substitute, will become an instrument to measure the parameters of the organism revealed by saliva”. All in one app
(Claudio Antonelli from Dongguang)
Hon Lik, class of ’56, chemist and inventor, has recently earned tens of millions after selling the patent of the electronic cigarette. He does not seem to play fool. His clothing is modest. A t-shirt and a pair of pants with pleats. His manners are accommodating. The smile is a mixture of calmness and superiority. He has enough patience to tell his speaker how the world is going and at the same time he reveals the look of who is always one step ahead of the others. Hon Lik is clearly a visionary. Yet, he agrees to explain from the principle how an electronic cigarette works and brings us to visit the Aml Holding factory in Dongguang, a 4000 employees conglomerate which produce medical and audio devices for brands like Bayer, GE, Sanofi, as also for Bose and Panasonic. In the factory, at halfway between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, a Healthcare division has been dedicated to the production of e-cigs for Fontem Ventures, the Imperial Tobacco Group company which bought the patent from Hon Lik and is ready to create synergies with the other brand just in, the US giant and Blu-cig.
Dr. Lik, your name is linked to the electronic cigarette, but yout list of inventions and patents is longer. When and where does it start?
“In 1986 I patented an antenna able to provide rural China with television. In 1992, a drug that can replace the use of the deer antler, that is crucial for oriental medicine. In the same year, I filed a patent to commercialize ginseng infusions”.
How do you feel to have helped creating many jobs?
“I’m proud. Effectively, an industry was born. But also a new way to socialize and to approach the pleasure. I read that in the US there are also vaping bars where people make social activities and meet with the umbrage of the electronic cigarette”.
How did you find the idea of the electronic cigarette?
“I can say that the image of the electronic cigarette was formed in my mind one morning while I was waking up. But at the beginning of it all it was a night where I drank too much. From time, trying to quit smoking I used nicotine patches. I came from a time when I used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and my father died of lung cancer. I put the patches on the belly to produce the most impact possible. And that night I forgot to take them off. It was a night with terrible nightmares. The next day I tried to figure out if it was up by alcohol or nicotine. So I repeated the experiment with patches and new nightmares. In college I went to work. When you smoke tobacco, the peak takes 40 minutes and then there’s the down. Hence the dependency. With the patches, there isn’t any peak of pleasure, but only continuous release of nicotine. I realized that the concept of patches was added to the stimulus of pleasure, used to reverse the effect of the classic whites and reset the dependency”.
Then what did you do?
“I had in office a humidifier. and I added drops of nicotine. If the amount was too little I did not feel any reaction. If it was too much, the excitement was immediate. In traditional cigarettes there is a blend of chemicals that you cannot find in the e-cig. The secret was all in the right dose of nicotine. I created the first sample in the laboratory. I had to build all the components. In the end, it had the size of a Cuban cigar. And on that I began testing, until I found the right dose of nicotine. My boss, Shenyang Jinlong, blocked the main project we were working on: electric photochromic glasses. With a team of 10 people we started to improve the prototype. In 2004 we launched the product in the market”.
“The factory was working 24 hours a day. In 2006 we created the second version, adding flavors and aromas, and more or less in two years a million pieces were sold”.
In which markets?
“Europe, America and a bit in Asia. In Europe, for example, there is greater social education. So the introduction of the electronic cigarette exploited the affinity with certain habits, especially the non-invasiveness of the method. After, the health aspect took over. Especially in America where people, unlike China, are much more health-conscious. The fact is that the e-cig is much healthier than tobacco. In China, smoking is not seen negatively. There is no harm perception, especially at social level. For this reason, vaping is not a habit to be taken into consideration”.
So, China will never sell e-cigs?
“I did not say that. On the contrary, it is a matter of health education. It will take a bit of years, then even science will prove that “devices” as electronic cigarettes are less harmful than other tobacco products. Then, the global market will be 5 billion dollar worth. Not just that. I am also convinced that science will allow us to take a step forward and demonstrate that electronic cigarettes are healthier”.
Are you saying that smoking e-cigs is good?
“You think with the eyes of the present. I say that the electronic cigarette contain in itself a huge potential. It will have many other uses and will all be healthy for men. They will provide health with various benefits “.
“Already, an e-cig can communicate via bluetooth with smartphones and transmit data such as the amount of nicotine consumed and track the habits of the device owner”. In the future their use will be proactive. Not only the application connected via Bluetooth will tell you when to smoke, stop or report the places where it is forbidden. But the cigarette can read by contact with saliva and lips data there are critical for health and diet. For example, it would report through the app on your smartphone if it is time to drink water, or that the diet of the day is too full of fat or low in fiber. Or that you ate too much sugar and that you should call the doctor”.
Basically a smart cigarette… but this way will men lose their own intelligence?
“Imagine the benefits on a larger scale. The number of saved lives. You have to think about this”.
Are you working on a new project?
“Yes, the last one. Then I can retire”.
HON LIK is a pharmacist born in Beijing. He invented and patented in 2003 a tobacco-free electronic cigarette and created alternative methods of nicotine intake. He graduated in 1982 at Liaoning College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. After graduation he joined the Liaoning Provincial Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where he later became Director of Research, Director of the Medical Auxiliary Material Factory and Technical Director, before moving to the industry in 1994.
In 2003, after various tests and experiments with countless prototypes, Hon Lik obtained on behalf of his company, Dragonite International, the patent for the electronic cigarette. Ten years later, in 2013, Hon Lik and Fontem Ventures, an Imperial Tobacco group colpany, decided to join their forces and Fontem Ventures announced the acquisition of patents of the new vapor inhalation technologies by Dragonite International. In Italy the product recently launchedbon the market is called JAI.