Submit your own Neatorama post and vote for others' posts to earn NeatoPoints that you can redeem for T-shirts, hoodies and more over at the NeatoShop!

The Myth of the White Lighter

Here's a superstition I had never heard of until now. Disposable lighters come in all colors, but the white ones are bad luck. It's supposedly even more unlucky than lighting three cigarettes with one match. At least that one made sense, because you could burn your fingers if you held a match long enough. The white lighter taboo seems to be entirely magical thinking.

Even in 2017, it’s not uncommon to encounter smokers who not only won’t purchase white lighters, but won’t use them to light things even if they belong to someone else. Some people don’t even like being in the room when one is being used. But how did this legend get started in the first place?

The most common origin story behind this myth is actually tied up with another popular urban legend. The so-called “27 Club” includes young artists and musicians—Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix—who all died at the age of 27. A number of superstitions revolve around the 27 Club, one of which being that those musicians, as well as a later addition to the club, Kurt Cobain, had white lighters on them when they died. They didn’t.

There are a couple of other possibilities for the origin of this superstition, one that even makes sense, that you can read about at Atlas Obscura. The article is part of their series on luck running all this week.

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Here are my problems with the story. Instead of using one match, are the soldiers supposed to use two? Wouldn't the double light-up be more obvious to a sniper? How are four or more soldiers supposed to light up, without one losing his head? Also, does this practice extend to lighters or is it only matches? If this were an effective practice against night-time snipers, shouldn't the guideline be more like "no flames for more than 5 seconds out of each minute", or however long it takes for a sniper to lose aim?

I feel more like it's a retro-fitting of a plausible mechanism onto a superstition, rather than an explanation of how it came to be. Nearly all of the WWI accounts I found about this practice considered it a common superstition, not an anti-sniper rule-of-thumb.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I just did a text search for "three cigarettes" and "match" at I can confirm that the references to this practice didn't start until WWI and with soldiers. However, almost all of the WWI accounts refer to it as a wide-spread superstition and not an anti-sniper practice. For some examples: "Ladies from Hell" (1918) p73 referring to the Battle for Lille in 1914 has "The older men recounted many of the ancient trench superstitions — how it is bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same match."; "Runaway Russia" (1918) p77 describes British soldiers at the Hotel Astoria trying to defuse a situation with the Russian revolutionaries in 1917, "Lieutenant Urmston lighted a match, held it to the general's cigarette, then to the soldier's, and then blew it out, explaining to the soldier that it was bad luck to light three cigarettes with one match. That appealed to the soldier, who, like all Russians, was very superstitious.".

The most interesting is "Money Box" (1927, 2nd ed.) concerning the history of this very practice! Page 92: "Then there is a wide-spread disagreement about the validity even of some of the most popular superstitions. Most of us, for instance, regard it as unlucky to light three cigarettes from one match. There is a vigorous minority, however, which protests that this is not a genuine superstition, but that
it was put about during recent years by a leading firm of manufacturers of matches. Others declare that it originated during the Boer War, when it was noticed that, if a match was kept alive long enough to light three cigarettes, a Boer sniper frequently fired at the light and shot one of the three smokers. These rationalists admit that the superstition is valid enough in time of war, but deny that it has any force in time of peace. This is an example of the sort of difficulty that an Academy of Superstitions ought to be able to clear up once and for all."
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I think you have the one about "three men on a match" wrong (or at least different from the way I've always heard it): three men are in a foxhole. The first man on the match; the sniper spots the flame. The second man on the match; the sniper aims. The third man on the match loses his head.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I am an ex-smoker and I've never heard of this superstition. I've used white lighters and never experienced anything bad with them, other than slowly killing myself with cigs.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"The Myth of the White Lighter"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More