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To explore the relationship between personal characteristics and smoking initiation among adolescents in Hong Kong.Adolescents have been initiating cigarette smoking at an increasing rate in recent years. Preventing tobacco use among young children has become one of the most effective strategies to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco use.A cross-sectional study.Secondary students were recruited by convenience sampling from schools in the New Territories of Hong Kong in 2010. Questionnaires were used to collect information relating to their demographic and personal characteristics, including behavioural control, coping styles, sociability, locus of control, rebelliousness, self-esteem, emotional distress, and intention to smoke.A total of 644 secondary students were recruited. The prevalence of having ever tried smoking was 19·4% and that of regular smoking was 3·9% among these students. The results of this study show that secondary students who were living in public housing and had lower behavioural control and higher smoking intention were more likely to have tried smoking or to be regular smokers, indicating that these factors contribute to smoking initiation among secondary students.The personal characteristics of secondary students do play a role in smoking initiation. Parents and school personnel should work together to help young people to improve their self-esteem and behavioural control and to overcome their rebelliousness. The causes of smoking intention should also be explored to stop young people from picking up their first cigarette.