1979: Dr. Norman Jacobson further develops the inhalation of smokeless nicotine
Basically a cigarette-sized plastic tube containing "a plug impregnated with nicotine solution," and called a "Flavor Cigarette." In 1987, the FDA tries to ban its marketing, but a judge rules that ban bunk, as it's not marketed with claims of "therapeutic benefit." Also "impregnated"? Gross, dude.
1979-2002: Big Tobacco ignores the commercial potential for e-cigarettes, and so does everyone else
Nothing really happens, e-cigarette-wise. One thing worth noting is the development of the cell phone, which would produce smaller and more portable lithium batteries, which e-cigarettes now rely on and let you carry these things in your pocket instead of a hilariously oversized backpack.
2003: The e-cigarette rises back to life
Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist and inventor, independently designs a gizmo similar to Gilbert’s, but one that produced a more viscous, vaporized cloud, which appears similar to stage fog (because it’s similar in composition). The pharmaceutical company he works for, called Golden Dragon Holdings, is so impressed that they changed their name to Ruyan (which translates to “like smoke”) and begins marketing the product aggressively in China, where 60% of men smoke (do the math and that means there are more male smokers in China than there are people in the United States). Sales proved lucrative, and Ruyan set their sights abroad.