Having one bottle of wine each week raises the risk of cancer by the same amount as smoking up to 10 cigarettes, scientists claim.
In the first study of its kind, academics managed to compare the known dangers of smoking to that of drinking too much.
They found the ‘cigarette equivalent’ of one bottle of wine – roughly 10 units – is five cigarettes for men or ten for women each week.
And the risk of cancer from downing three bottles of red or white wine each week, or 10 large glasses, is much higher.
Researchers at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Bangor University and University of Southampton carried out the study.
Dr Theresa Hydes and team estimated 10 in 1,000 men would develop cancer at some point in their lives from drinking one bottle of wine each week.
However, for women this figure was 14 out of 1,000, according to the study published in the journal BioMedCentral Public Health.
Men were more likely to get gastrointestinal cancers from drinking, while the risk of breast cancer was greatest for women.
The risk was much higher for both men and women who drink three bottles of wine per week – more than double the recommended amount.
The study found 19 out of 1,000 men and 36 out of 1,000 women would eventually develop cancer if they drank this amount.
This carries the same risk as smoking eight cigarettes a week for men, or 23 a week for women, Dr Hydes and colleagues estimated.
The researchers did not estimate the risk of cancer from drinking beer because they went on units, not type of beverage.
Dr Hydes said: ‘We must be absolutely clear that this study is not saying that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking.
‘Our finds relate to lifetime risk across the population. At an individual level, cancer risk represented by drinking or smoking will vary.
‘And for many individuals, the impact of ten units of alcohol (one bottle of wine) or five to ten cigarettes may be very different.’
Dr Hydes said comparing the risks of alcohol to smoking could encourage adults to cut down on booze.
She said: ‘It is well established that heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, gullet, bowel, liver and breast.
‘Yet, in contrast to smoking, this is not widely understood by the public.
‘We hope by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.’
The researchers used data available from Cancer Research UK and official statistic bodies used by nations in the UK, including ONS.
They were able to analyse what proportion of deaths can be attributed to smoking and alcohol, and then estimate the risk of cancer they both cause.
The NHS advise men and women not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis – such as weekly.
Regularly consuming more than the recommended amount is known to raise the risk of cancer, liver disease and heart disease.
A large glass of wine contains around three units, while a bottle is closer to the 10 mark. A pint of beer is around 2.3.