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Alcohol firms are misleading the public over the extent to which drinking causes cancer, researchers warn today.

Some have disputed the evidence while others have tried to claim that alcohol protects against tumour growth.

Over the past two decades, numerous studies have shown a strong  link between even moderate drinking and cancer.

Scientists estimate that alcohol is responsible for at least 4 per cent of cancers in the UK, equivalent to 13,400 cases a year. But research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has revealed the extent to which the alcohol industry is denying this evidence.

The authors looked at 30 websites from alcohol trade organisations in the UK, Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.

One European body, the Wine Information Council, claimed that wine actually protects against several forms of cancer including breast, lung and kidney.

The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, which is based in the US, said that light to moderate drinking was not ‘significantly' associated with an increased risk of tumours.

The authors said the tactics used by the alcohol industry were very similar to those used by tobacco firms for 50 years to play down the risk of lung cancer. Alcohol is thought to damage certain cells which over time, leads to the formation of tumours.

The authors said the alcohol firms were particularly misleading about the link between breast and bowel cancers, two of the most common types.
Other cancers thought to be triggered by alcohol include throat, mouth, liver and prostate.

Professor Mark Petticrew, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘The weight of scientific evidence is clear – drinking alcohol increases the risk of some of the most common forms of cancer.

‘Public awareness of this risk is low, and it has been argued that greater public awareness, particularly of the risk of breast cancer, poses a significant threat to the alcohol industry.

‘Our analysis suggests that the major global alcohol producers may attempt to mitigate this by disseminating misleading information about cancer through their "responsible drinking" bodies.

‘This has obvious parallels with the global tobacco industry's decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the risk of cancer, which also used front organisations and corporate social activities.'

However, representatives of the alcohol industry claimed the research was ‘misleading' and said they were already advising consumers to drink responsibly.

Henry Ashworth, president of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, said: ‘We do not agree with the conclusions reached in this paper. We stand by the information that we publish on drinking and health.'