A Comparison of Gender-linked Population Cancer risks between Alcohol and Tobacco:

How Many Cigarettes are there in a Bottle of Wine?

BMC Public Health

2019; Vol. 19; pp. 316

Theresa J. Hydes, Robyn Burton, Hazel Inskip, Mark A. Bellis, Nick Sheron: From the University of Southampton, UK. 


In a groundbreaking study, researchers aimed to shed light on the often underestimated risks associated with moderate alcohol consumption by comparing the absolute increase in cancer risk to that caused by low levels of smoking. The findings provide crucial insights into the public health implications of both habits, challenging preconceived notions about the relative harm of alcohol compared to smoking.

  • The Grim Reality of Smoking:
    • Smoking’s well-established health risks include contributing to 7 million global deaths annually and being responsible for 22% of cancer deaths worldwide. Despite widespread awareness, the tobacco industry historically sought to suppress information about the link between smoking and cancer.
  • Parallel Tactics: Tobacco vs. Alcohol Industry:
    • Drawing a parallel to the tobacco industry, the authors note evidence of similar tactics employed by the alcohol industry to downplay the association between alcohol use and cancer.
  • Alcohol’s Global Impact:
    • The harmful use of alcohol leads to approximately 3.3 million deaths each year, accounting for 5.9% of global deaths. Alcohol stands as the leading cause of death among individuals aged 15–49 worldwide.
  • Perception vs. Reality:
    • Despite being directly linked to various cancers, alcohol is often perceived as less harmful than smoking. Notably, there is robust evidence that even low levels of alcohol intake offer no protective health benefits.
  • Alarming Cancer Risks Associated with Moderate Drinking:
    • Consuming one bottle of wine per week significantly increases the lifetime cancer risk for non-smoking individuals, particularly affecting the gastrointestinal tract. The risk is even higher for women, with breast cancer accounting for 55% of additional cases.
  • Quantifying the Risk:
    • The study establishes a striking parallel between alcohol and smoking by equating the cancer risk of drinking one bottle of wine per week to smoking 5 cigarettes for men and 10 cigarettes for women.
  • Comparative Cancer Risk:
    • Drinking three bottles of wine per week carries a comparable increase in absolute cancer risk to smoking approximately eight cigarettes per week for men and 23 cigarettes per week for women.
  • Breast Cancer and Beyond:
    • The focus on breast cancer highlights its attribution to alcohol, and studies reveal a significant correlation between alcohol consumption and increased relative risk of breast cancer independent of smoking.
  • Public Health Implications:
    • The research emphasizes the importance of recognizing moderate alcohol consumption as a significant public health risk for women, challenging prevailing perceptions about its safety.
  • Rising Incidence and Education:
    • The study links the rise in alcohol consumption over the past decade to the 30% increase in breast cancer incidence in England. It underscores the need to educate women that the risk extends beyond hazardous and harmful drinking patterns.
  • Beyond Breast Cancer:
    • Various cancers, including melanoma, gallbladder, pancreas, lung, and prostate, exhibit a dose-risk relationship with alcohol, further emphasizing its broad impact on cancer risk.


This study serves as a wake-up call, urging a reconsideration of the perceived safety of moderate alcohol consumption. With findings equating alcohol-related cancer risks to smoking, it becomes imperative to prioritize public health initiatives that raise awareness and challenge societal norms surrounding alcohol use, particularly among women. As the evidence mounts, acknowledging the dangers of moderate drinking is crucial for preventing a silent epidemic of alcohol-related cancers.