Progress in reducing youth smoking may depend on developing improved methods to communicate with higher risk youth. This study explored the potential of smoking prevention messages based on the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) to address these needs. Structured evaluations of 12 smoking prevention messages based on three strategies derived from the ELM were conducted in classroom settings among a diverse sample of non-smoking middle school students in three states (n = 1771). Students categorized as likely to have higher involvement in a decision to initiate cigarette smoking reported relatively high ratings on a cognitive processing indicator for messages focused on factual arguments about negative consequences of smoking than for messages with fewer or no direct arguments. Message appeal ratings did not show greater preference for this message type among higher involved versus lower involved students. Ratings from students reporting lower academic achievement suggested difficulty processing factual information presented in these messages. The ELM may provide a useful strategy for reaching adolescents at risk for smoking initiation, but particular attention should be focused on lower academic achievers to ensure that messages are appropriate for them. This approach should be explored further before similar strategies could be recommended for large-scale implementation.