Smoking cigarettes has been a popular pastime among troops since the very first line formed at the armory. Everybody, both civilian and service member alike, has their reason for smoking, but one thing is consistent between the two crowds — flipping one cigarette upside down and saving it for last.
This last cigarette is referred to as the “lucky cigarette” and it’s considered bad luck to smoke it before the others in the pack. People all over the internet have speculated at the origin of this superstition, but it’s very likely that it all started with troops in WWII — and the Lucky Strike brand cigarettes they used to get in their rations.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why your veteran friend saves a single, specific cig for last, here are the best explanations we’ve found:
(U.S. Marine Corps)
World War II
In WWII, troops would get Lucky Strike cigarettes in their rations and each cigarette was stamped with the brand’s logo. It’s believed that those fighting either in Europe or the Pacific would flip every cigarette in the pack except for one. That way, when a troop sparked one, they’d burn the stamp first (this was before the days of filtered cigarettes).
That way, if a troop had to drop the cigarette for any reason, the enemy couldn’t quickly determine the country of origin — any identifying mark was quickly turned to ash. The last cigarette was the only exception — and if you survived long enough to smoke it, you were considered lucky.
U.S. Marine Corps LVTP-5 amphibious tractors transport 3rd Marine Division troops in Vietnam, 1966.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Some swear that this tradition comes from the Vietnam War.
By this point, filtered cigarettes were becoming the norm, so you could only smoke ’em one way. Still, the tradition remained largely intact. Instead of flipping every cigarette on end, troops would invert a single one and, just as before, if you lived long enough to smoke it, you were a lucky joe.
Hopefully you can quit when you get out.
In either case, having a “lucky cigarette” in your pack has since become a universal superstition.
Whether you’re in the military or not, flipping that one cigarette is considered good luck, even when your life isn’t in immediate danger.