Is drinking wine as bad for you as smoking cigarettes? Study examines cancer risk

Wine 101

Which is better for you: drinking a bottle of wine each week or smoking 10 cigarettes?

According to a new study, the cancer risk for women is the same for each.

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The cancer risk from smoking cigarettes is fairly well-known, but "the number of cancers attributed to alcohol is poorly understood by the public," according to the study, which was recently published in the journal BMC Public Health. In fact, a 2017 survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that 70 percent of Americans didn't know alcohol consumption can lead to cancer.

Tobacco use accounts for 7 million deaths per year globally, with an estimated two-thirds of smokers expected to die from their habit, according to The BMJ. About 3.3 million deaths occur each year because of the harmful use of alcohol, BMJ reported, corresponding to 5.9 percent of all deaths globally.

To increase the public’s awareness of cancer from alcohol, researchers from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Bangor University and University of Southampton compared the cancer risk of drinking wine to the cancer risk of smoking cigarettes.

Using data from Cancer Research U.K. and other sources, the scientists concluded "that if 1,000 non-smoking men and 1,000 non-smoking women each drank one bottle of wine a week, around 10 extra men and 14 extra women could develop cancer during their lives; equivalent to the lifetime cancer risk stemming of a man having five cigarettes a week, and a woman having 10 smokes."

But the bad news doesn’t end there. When wine consumption increased to three bottles a week, or about half a bottle a day, “around 19 men and 36 women may develop an alcohol-related cancer.“

Does this mean drinking wine is just as bad for you as smoking? No, the researchers said.

They were “absolutely clear that this study is not saying that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking. Smoking kills up to two thirds of its users, and cancer is just one of the many serious health consequences. This study purely addresses cancer risk in isolation.”

However, the National Cancer Institute lists alcohol as a known human carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent.

Longtime alcohol consumption has been linked to the development of head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.