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Read this story in the '60s, although I think it dated from the '50s. I am certain it appeared in either Amazing or Fantastic (these magazines were half reprint 1965-69), or one of the reprint digests put out by the same publisher, Ultimate. American author, written in English.

Two spacemen have crash-landed on a planet that seems to be one giant swamp; the air is filled with nasty little midge-like creatures that are so oppressive the men are forced to wear space suits even though the atmosphere is breathable.

There is some explosive element (hydrogen?) in the planet's atmosphere that will explode if it is exposed to an open flame, so they can't repair their ship, meaning they are stranded forever. Humanoid creatures inhabit this planet, but the same atmospheric element somehow oppresses their minds, preventing them from making full use of their intelligence.

Knowing they are doomed, the two Earthmen decide (without consulting the natives!) to commit suicide by blowing up the whole planet! One opens his helmet and lights a cigarette, but the result is not as expected - the flame spreads out slowly, burning off his eyebrows but otherwise not harming him.

The upshot: the element is burned away, the midges are gone, the natives can make use of their full intelligence and the astronauts can repair their ship. Happy ending.

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  • Not the story you're looking for but this might help or be a starting point: in Murray Leinster's "War with the Gizmos" (1958; also known as "The Strange Invasion" isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?3546) the main character saves the world from an alien invasion by smoking cigarettes (they destroy the Gizmos).
    – Zab Zonk
    Dec 16 '20 at 8:51
  • All I have is a feeling that it was a reprint when I read it. In the mid-60s I was only a kid, but even then I was interested in when a story was published, and I am pretty sure it dated from the '50s. I have been to the ISFDG page & gone through every issue of these mags starting in 1962, the year I started reading SF, and nothing rings a bell. Of course, the titles of the stories you identified didn't ring a bell either (thanks again). Dec 21 '20 at 6:21
  • Addendum: Ziff-Davis had a single reprint per issue, while Ultimate made both mags half-reprint from '65 to '69. Then there were the mags that were entirely reprints (I understand the publisher got into trouble with the SFWA because he didn't pay royalties on the reprints) that lasted into the '70s. My bet is on Ultimate. Dec 21 '20 at 6:52
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This story is 'The Flames Of Life', 1960, by Theodore L. Thomas.

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  • 1
    Can you explain how this story matches your original description?
    – Valorum
    Feb 10 at 21:10
  • I found a copy of the Amazing Stories issue in which this story appeared on a site call Luminist Archives. I recognized the illustrations immediately - after all these years! - but I do not like to read stories online, so I ordered a copy of the magazine. When I read the story I will add to my answer. Feb 11 at 4:03
  • Valorum: the story is much as I described - the two astronauts, the crash landing, the description of the planet and the natives were on-target. The explosive atmosphere was a combo of oxygen, nitrogen & methane. The two men did not plan to commit suicide - in good old SF problem-solving fashion they determined the burn-off would be slow. Feb 20 at 4:46

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