With a lack of tobacco control and regulation at the national level, Indonesia has been targeted by many national and transnational tobacco companies. The prevalence of youth smokers in Indonesia in 2005 was 38% among boys and 5.3% among girls. The aim of this study was to describe and analyse beliefs, norms and values about smoking among teenage boys in a rural setting in Java, Indonesia. Six focus group discussions with boys aged 13-17 years were conducted using a thematic discussion guide. Four themes were derived from the descriptive content analysis: (i) smoking as a culturally internalized habit, (ii) striving to become a man, (iii) the way we smoke is not dangerous and (iv) the struggle against dependency. Cultural resistance against women smoking in Indonesia remains strong. The use of tobacco in the construction of masculinity underlines the importance of gender-specific intervention. National tobacco control policy should emphasize a smoking-free society as the norm, especially among boys and men, and regulations regarding the banning of smoking should be enforced at all levels and areas of community. A comprehensive community intervention programme on smoking prevention and cessation should be a major focus of tobacco control policies in Indonesia.