Aims This study examined links of peer experiences (i.e. social status and affiliation with disruptive peers) throughout childhood with respect to adolescent smoking trajectories, after controlling for childhood disruptiveness. Specifically, we tested four models regarding links of peer experiences and deviant behaviours. Design Prospective community sample. Participants A total of 312 children, aged 6.17 years at baseline. Measurements Growth parameters of own disruptive behaviour, disruptive behaviour of friends and social status measured at ages 7-12 years as predictors of smoking assessed at ages 13-15 years, while controlling for own disruptive behaviour at age 6 years. Findings We found three groups with distinct profiles of smoking. One group displayed hardly any or no smoking at all; a second group showed a trajectory of increased smoking; and a third group that showed high smoking rates initially and increased in smoking intensity over time. Results support the assumption of the selection model that the link between disruptive peers and smoking is spurious and due to shared variances with own early disruptiveness. Moreover, support was found for the popularity-socialization model supporting the assumption that age-related increases in social status are associated with smoking. Conclusions The findings emphasize that early disruptiveness is predictive of later smoking. In addition, it was shown that smoking becomes less deviant over time, in line with group norms. Future prevention programmes should emphasize the need to change these norms. © 2009 Society for the Study of Addiction.