How many cigarettes are the equivalent of one bottle of wine? It may seem like a strange question to ask, but experts are using the connection to communicate alcohol-related cancer risks to the public.

After all, even moderate drinking is associated with an increased risk of cancer. Now, researchers illustrate the risks using the well-known link between cigarettes and cancer.

Wine, Cigarettes, and Cancer

A team from the University of Southampton, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and Bangor University estimated the cancer risk of wine and compared it with the cancer risk of cigarettes in a study published in the journal BMC Public Health.

"We aimed to answer the question: Purely in terms of cancer risk — that is, looking at cancer in isolation from other harms — how many cigarettes are there in a bottle of wine?" Dr. Theresa Hydes, the lead author of the study, explains in a statement from the University of Southampton. "Our findings suggest that the 'cigarette equivalent' of a bottle of wine is five cigarettes for men and ten for women per week."

The risk of developing cancer associated with drinking one bottle of wine a week is 1 percent in non-smoking men and 1.4 percent in non-smoking women. The risk is associated primarily with gastrointestinal tract cancer in men and breast cancer in women.

Furthermore, the findings show that an increase in wine consumption results in an increase in cancer risk as well.

Drinking three bottles of wine per week raises the absolute lifetime cancer risk to 1.9 percent in men and 3.6 percent in women. This translates to eight cigarettes weekly for men and 23 cigarettes weekly for women.

Using Cigarettes to Measure Cancer Risk

Hydes points out that while the connection between heavy drinking and many types of cancer has been established, most of the public is still not aware of it.

The National Cancer Institute reports that 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the United States in 2009 were alcohol-related. Alcohol consumption has been linked to head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers, among others.

Since the link between cigarettes and cancer is more widely accepted, the researchers decided to use cigarettes as a measure to calculate the cancer risk of alcohol.

"We must be absolutely clear that this study is not saying that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking," Hydes clarifies. "Our finds relate to lifetime risk across the population."

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