The argument that people freely choose to smoke assumes that individuals at the point of initiation of smoking (often in adolescence) hold accurate beliefs about smoking. Smoking beliefs and the presence of known smoking risk factors were assessed in interviews with a sample of 895 urban young people. The respondents greatly overestimated the prevalence of adult and peer smoking, negative attitudes of their peers were greatly underestimated, a large proportion believed that they would be less likely than other people to contract a smoking-related illness if they became smokers, and there was a general lack of understanding of the adverse consequences experienced upon smoking cessation. These misperceptions were more common among youngsters who were smokers, who intended to smoke, or who had friends or family members who smoked. Because misinformation among young people is widespread and those at greatest risk for smoking are the most misinformed, the tobacco industry's argument that the decision to smoke reflects an "informed choice" is without merit.