High alcohol intake is an independent risk factor for upper gastrointestinal (GI)-tract cancers. There is increasing evidence that acetaldehyde, the first metabolite of ethanol, might be responsible for ethanol-associated carcinogenesis. Especially among Asian heavy drinkers with the ALDH2-deficiency gene, i.e., a genetic inability to remove acetaldehyde, the risk of digestive tract cancers is markedly increased. Local acetaldehyde production from ethanol either by oral microbes, mucosal cells or salivary glands is a plausible carcinogenic agent in the saliva. The aim of our study was to examine whether is it possible to bind carcinogenic acetaldehyde from saliva with L-cysteine, which is slowly released from a special buccal tablet. Nine healthy male volunteers took part in our study, and each subject served as his own control. A placebo or L-cysteine-containing tablet was fastened under the upper lip. Thereafter the volunteers ingested 0.8 g/kg of body weight of 10% (v/v) ethanol, and saliva samples were collected at 20 min intervals for 320 min. Salivary acetaldehyde and ethanol levels were analysed by headspace gas chromatography. The mean reduction of acetaldehyde concentration of the saliva with the L-cysteine tablet compared to placebo was 59% (CL95% 43%, 76%). Area under the curve (AUC0–320min) with the L-cysteine and placebo tablet were 54.3 ± 11 μM × hr and 162 ± 34.2 μM × hr (mean ± SEM), respectively (p = 0.003). After alcohol intake, up to two-thirds of carcinogenic acetaldehyde can be removed from saliva with a slow-releasing buccal L-cysteine drug formulation. Thus, a buccal cysteine tablet could potentially be used to prevent upper GI-tract cancers, especially among high-risk individuals. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.