Smoking amongst adolescents in New Zealand continues to be a problem, with more than a one-third increase in smoking prevalence between 1992 and 1997. Favourable portrayals of smoking in the media have been cited as potential motivators of the initiation of smoking among adolescents. To date, however, its role in influencing smoking perceptions and behaviours has not received systematic analysis. A qualitative study was conducted to explore how adolescents interpret and decode smoking imagery in movies. Data was collected through focus groups. Same-gender groups of 12- and 13-year-old students were interviewed at their schools. Participants discussed their recollections of and responses to portrayals of smoking in recently viewed films, as well as their perceptions of smoking in general. Students perceived that smoking in film is both highly prevalent and recognisable, and they regarded on-screen-smoking imagery as an accurate reflection of reality. Adolescents in this study were predominantly nonchalant towards the inclusion of smoking images in film, and they perceived an unrealistically high prevalence of smoking amongst peers and adults. Their noncholant response is linked with the perception that smoking is normal and prevalent and with the broad understanding of the constructed nature of media imagery. Smoking imagery in film may play a critical role in reinforcing cultural interpretations of tobacco use, such as its role as a means of stress relief, development of self-image and as a marker of adult independence.