Donations in support of research:

If you would like to make a gift in support of Dr. Springer's research, please contact Eileen Murphy, director of development for UCSF Cardiology, at (415) 502-0746 or [email protected]

If you would like to make your gift by check, please make it out to the UCSF Foundation and write “Cardiology Research: Springer/B3373” on the memo line. You can send it to:

UCSF Foundation
PO Box 45339
San Francisco, CA 94145-0339 

You can also make a gift online; click the “Direct your gift to a specific area (optional)” link near the top, and type “Matthew L. Springer Lab, Cardiology” in the last designation line ("other").  You should get a UCSF confirmation immediately, although it may take over a week for me to personally acknowledge your donation because of the time it takes for it to work its way through the system and for me to be notified.  If you never hear from me directly, then you will know the system did not notify me; please e-mail me in that case because I would not want you to go un-thanked! 

Thank you for your generosity!

The main areas of research underway in our laboratory currently include the study of how to improve an experimental heart attack treatment that has been less effective in clinical trials than in earlier mouse studies, and the study of how exposure to cigarette smoke (including secondhand smoke) rapidly causes temporary changes in blood vessels that may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

As an example, the following is a video and a description from a 2013 UCSF/Indiegogo targeted crowdfunding campaign that has been concluded, studying whether the harmful effects of both smoking and secondhand exposure extend to popular alternative products like cigarillos and electronic cigarettes.  A greater understanding of how these products affect smokers and bystanders will better enable smokers to make informed health decisions, and will support sensible public health policies that protect non-smokers from unintentional exposure.  We subsequently received a government grant to support this specific project, but the details are still timely and relevant and we still appreciate donations for the greater study of how smoke harms the cardiovascular system, as well as our work on experimental heart attack treatments.


Based on UCSF/Indiegogo fundraising campaign, August-September 2013*:

Are e-cigarettes, cigarillos, and other cigarette substitutes as harmful as cigarettes?

Cigarette substitutes are more popular than ever, especially among youth: they're cheaper and less regulated. Help us show if they are as harmful as cigarettes.



SUMMARY: Strong regulation has reduced the use of cigarettes, but other unregulated products are taking their place

It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for you, as is breathing someone else’s secondhand smoke.

Regulations on sales and use of cigarettes have led to a decrease in cigarette smoking and have made it easier for non-smokers to avoid cigarette smoke. However, the arrival of new products (e-cigarettes), and renewed interest in older products (cigarillos and little cigars), are once again contributing to increased youth smoking and potentially to lower air quality in public places.

Appropriate regulation of these products requires a better understanding of their risks.

We have developed a way to study in the laboratory how cigarette smoke harms the cardiovascular system, sometimes within minutes of exposure. With your help, we can study smoke and vapors from these products to find out whether they cause cardiovascular problems that are caused by cigarette smoke, which will help the FDA determine effective and fair regulatory policies.

examples of cigarette substitutes

Current regulations on cigarettes

The health risks of smoking cigarettes and of breathing secondhand cigarette smoke are well established. As a result, cigarettes are highly regulated in ways that discourage youth smoking and protect the non-smoking public from exposure to secondhand smoke. For example, cigarettes can only be sold in packages of 20 or more, cannot be flavored with the exception of menthol, and are highly taxed, making them more expensive. Smoking is banned in enclosed places like airplanes and restaurants, and smoking in public outdoor places is severely limited.

However, there’s been increasing popularity of old and new products that have similarities to cigarettes, but are less expensive, less regulated, and less restricted in public; because most of these regulatory limitations only apply to “cigarettes.”


cigarettes and little cigars

Cigarillos and little cigars

In some cases, such as cigarillos and little cigars, the similarity is obvious and it is very likely that the alternative products are as toxic. Nevertheless, the popularity of cigarillos and little cigars is skyrocketing, especially among youth, because they can avoid the high taxes of cigarettes and are less expensive, they come in fun flavors (ranging from rum and wine to cherry, vanilla, and chocolate), and cigarillos in particular can be sold individually.

But make no mistake, these are rolls of tobacco that are burned, and many people inhale the smoke as in cigarette smoking. Bystanders certainly inhale the secondhand smoke. We suspect that the smoke from cigarillos and little cigars has the same toxic effects as cigarette smoke. Our research can help to determine this, giving the FDA valuable information to help them decide whether/how to regulate these cigarette alternatives.




A relatively new and hugely successful product is the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette), which contains no tobacco and instead holds a cartridge of liquid propylene glycol or glycerin that contains flavorings and nicotine. A heating element vaporizes a small amount of the mixture, delivering a puff of nicotine-containing vapor to the lungs that is subsequently exhaled into the surrounding air (they're calling it “vaping”). E-cigarettes have many apparent advantages to users and bystanders, such as not producing smoke/vapor between puffs as in a smoldering cigarette, and lacking at least the vast majority of the thousands of chemicals that result from burning tobacco leaves.

The problem? Many people equate “safer” with “safe,” and there has been a rush to allow people to use e-cigarettes wherever they feel like it, including schools, clinics, and day care centers. However, bystanders can show signs of nicotine exposure, and there’s evidence that a few of the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are also present in e-cigarette emissions, although in low amounts and it isn’t yet clear whether they are harmful. Lots of companies make them, with no set standards on quality or chemicals in the vapor. There are not uniform restrictions on sales to minors, and flavorings include not only menthol, fruits, and chocolate, but even bubblegum!

There is a public conception that they aren’t harmful, and while the research struggles to catch up to determine safety, public use is on the rise in a regulatory void. Are they harmful to the users? Is public “vaping” harmful to bystanders? We don’t know yet, but because of what is known about nicotine and about the other chemicals sometimes found in the vapors, it’s essential to learn more about the risks before assuming that vaping is harmless and exposing the public haphazardly to these vapors.

(Please see my 8/6/13 update about e-cigarettes for some clarification)


How can you help us solve the problem?*

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke both rapidly cause blood vessels to temporarily function abnormally. Even this temporary malfunction may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and we think that repeated temporary malfunctions over time can lead to long-term functional problems even when not exposed to smoke, a situation linked to atherosclerosis.

We can study this blood vessel function in the laboratory with ultrasound, and have observed vascular problems in humans and rats after just 30 minutes of smoke exposure, using a machine that smokes cigarettes and collects the smoke. In the rats, we’ve been able to detect the problem starting after just one minute of exposure. We plan to study the smoke from little cigars and cigarillos, and the vapor from e-cigarettes, to learn whether it causes the same kind of vascular problems that cigarette smoke causes. Both the public and the FDA will benefit from this research, but while this work has previously been funded by the NIH and a medical foundation (FAMRI), biomedical funding levels are at historic lows and we do not yet have sufficient resources to carry out these next important steps*. While we may be able to eventually get a grant for this research—perhaps in a year or so—these are problems that are current, and decisions are being made now by lawmakers. We need YOU so that we can move forward with this research NOW.

[*note: the above fundraising description is from a concluded fundraising campaign, and we did receive a government grant to study toxicity of little cigars, cigarillos, and e-cigarettes in mid-2014.]

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