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Spectral effects and nonlinearities that characterize illumination of dc discharges by low‐intensity light and illumination of gas cells by high‐intensity lasers are described. The similarities suggest an analogy between both cases. This analogy can be used to deepen the understanding of the low‐intensity EM radiation interaction with gas discharges and as a possible tool for further study of gas breakdown by high‐intensity lasers, including further investigation of the ’’effective photon’’ concept.