Study: Drinking A Bottle Of Wine A Week As Bad As Smoking 5 to 10 Cigarettes

By Maggie Ethridge 04/19/19
A new study is the first to investigate the "cigarette equivalent" of alcohol’s cancer risk.
people drinking wine and smoking cigarettes

A new study from the United Kingdom compares drinking a bottle of wine in seven days to smoking five to ten cigarettes.

BMC Public Health published the study, the first to attempt to find the "cigarette equivalent" of alcohol’s risk of causing cancer. Women and men in the study had different results—for women, a bottle of wine a week equals the cancer risk of five cigarettes, and for men, it is ten cigarettes.

“Everybody knows that cigarettes cause cancer," Dr. Richard Saitz, an addiction medicine specialist and chair of the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, told Live Science. "Hearing that some amount of alcohol is the equivalent of some amount of cigarettes" in cancer risk is a good way to spread awareness, Saitz said.

Saitz noted that the cancer risk of alcohol has been “under the radar,” and the researchers in the study agree. Multiple studies connecting moderate drinking to health risks have been published in the last few years.

It had been widely believed that moderate drinking reduced a gambit of health risks, but new research has tied moderate drinking to higher blood pressure, stroke risk, and now possibly increased lifetime cancer risk.

According to Live Science, lead study author Dr. Theresa Hydes, of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said, "Our estimation of a cigarette equivalent for alcohol provides a useful measure for communicating possible cancer risks that exploits successful historical messaging on smoking. We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices."

One bottle of wine (the alcohol used in the study) contains near 80 grams (2.8 ounces) of pure alcohol. Using national data from the UK, the study looked at lifetime risk of cancer in the general population, including published research on the relationship between smoking, alcohol, and cancer.

Non-smoking men who drank one bottle of wine a week were estimated to have a 1.0% increase in lifetime cancer risk. Non-smoking women who drank the same were estimated to have a 1.4% increase in lifetime cancer risk.

The research presumes that women are at higher risk due to the connection between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer rates.         

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.