Together, smoking and alcohol have a "synergistic effect" on upper gastrointestinal and aero-digestive cancer risk, meaning the combined effects exceed the risk from either alone according to CCA.
One bottle of wine per week is associated with an increased absolute lifetime risk of alcohol-related cancers in women, driven by breast cancer, equivalent to the increased absolute cancer risk associated with ten cigarettes per week.
The BMC Public Health study also looked into heavier levels of alcohol consumption and estimated that drinking three bottles of wine per week (around 30 units) could increase lifetime cancer risk by 3.6 per cent in women and 1.9 per cent in men, or 36 in 1,000 women and 19 in 1,000 men.
"Moderate levels of drinking are in absolute terms particularly important for cancer risk in women, because they are associated with increased risk of breast cancer, which is very common (lifetime risk of 14%)".
Green said this research confirms that, for most smokers, their smoking carries "much greater" risks for cancer than alcohol does for most drinkers. "We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices", she continued. In real terms, if 1,000 women and 1,000 men each drank one bottle of wine per week, it's likely that around 14 extra women and 10 extra men would develop cancer at some point in their life.
The goal of the research is to better convey the cancer risks that are tied to moderate alcohol consumption, which is generally thought to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
"We must be absolutely clear that this study is not saying that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking", said Dr Hyde. A recent survey suggests only 13 per cent of people understand cancer is one of the health risks associated with alcohol consumption.
"The overall picture of cancer risk is enormously complex and nuanced, so it's important to keep in mind that this new study is subject to a number of assumptions".
"But smoking causes over four times as many cases of cancer in the United Kingdom compared to alcohol".
Less widely-known, however, is how drinking alcohol can also contribute to someone's chances of contracting the disease.
Cancer Research UK added that smoking causes many more types of cancer, while John Britton, director of the UK centre for tobacco and alcohol studies at the University of Nottingham, said smoking is substantially more hazardous than alcohol consumption. "Our findings suggest that the "cigarette equivalent" of a bottle of wine is five cigarettes for men and ten for women per week".
"If smokers are anxious about their health, the best thing they can do is quit smoking".
The researchers used national data from the United Kingdom on the lifetime risk of cancer in the general population as well as previously published research on the relationship between alcohol, smoking and cancer.
"To make that comparison is misleading and will confuse people who want to enjoy alcohol in moderation".
In October 2018, a study led by researchers at University College London reported that 29 per cent of 16-24 year olds don't drink alcohol, compared to only 18 per cent in 2005.