In a prospective birth cohort study in Brazil, the prevalence and early risk factors for smoking in adolescence were investigated. All 1982 hospital-born children in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, were enrolled in a birth cohort study (N = 5,914; boys: 3,037; girls: 2,877). All male participants were searched in 2000 when enrolling in the national army, and 78.8% were traced. In 2001, a systematic sample of 473 girls was interviewed, representing a follow-up rate of 69.1%. Among males, 48.6% (95%CI: 46.6-50.7) had ever tried smoking and 15.8% (95%CI: 14.3-17.3) were daily smokers. Among females, 53.1% (95%CI: 48.6-57.6) had ever tried smoking and 15.4% (95%CI: 12.1-18.7) were daily smokers. Boys born to single mothers and those with fathers with low schooling were more likely to smoke in adolescence. Girls from low-income families, with mothers who smoked during pregnancy, and fathers with alcohol-related problems were more likely to smoke. Although the smoking prevalence was similar in boys and girls, risk factors for smoking were different between the sexes. Social environment appears to be the strongest predictor of tobacco use in adolescence.