The Scotch Whisky Association last night condemned as an "irresponsible piece of sensationalism" the findings by Dutch scientists published in tomorrow's issue of the Lancet.
Campbell Evans, a spokesman for the association, accused the scientists of jumping on the festive bandwagon and using the good name of Scotch whisky to publicise their findings. He said "several pieces of burned toast" posed a greater hazard to health than a "wee dram" of the finest malt.
Professor Jos Kleinjans and colleagues at Maastricht University tested 18 brands of whisky for chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), such as benzene, which are known to cause cancer.
They found that a Scottish malt, Laphroaig, had the highest PAH content while an American bourbon, Old Overholt, had the lowest.
Overall, malt whiskies had the highest PAH content and Irish whiskies the lowest, with American bourbons and blended scotches occupying the middle range. PAHs are also present - in much greater concentrations - in char-grilled and smoked foods and tobacco smoke. In whisky, they may originate from the charred insides of barrels in which the spirit is aged, from the smoke used to dry germinated barley or from charcoal filters.Reuse content