UK's leading researcher on the link between health and behaviour, the Australian expatriate Michael Marmot, found that smokers with the worst diets and poorest exercise habits could consume as many as 14 standard drinks a week, and still cut the risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other form of cardiovascular disease.
Greater quantities were less beneficial, though still better for those people than being teetotal.
But fit non-smokers who ate well increased their chances of falling prey to heart disease by drinking moderately compared with not at all, though their absolute risk was still much lower than that of their unhealthier peers.
Professor Marmot, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College, London, said health advice should now be modified to reflect how people may be differently affected.
"Most people drink for reasons other than alcohol's health benefits, but the widely publicised [heart protection] benefits may be used to justify or increase their habit," theage.com.au quoted him, as stating.
The study has been published in the Journal Of Epidemiology And Community Health.
"The most [protective] effects from moderate drinking were found among those with the worst behaviour profile," he added.
People should still clean up their lifestyle act rather than turning to drink, Professor Marmot said.
He said: "Stopping smoking, eating more fruit and vegetables and taking more exercise will also reduce coronary heart disease risk and have fewer side-effects."
The findings come from the long-running Whitehall study of British public servants, which has followed the health fortunes of 10,000 Londoners since the 1980s.