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Gas-discharge tube (GDT) surge protectors are known for many decades as passive units used in low-voltage telecom networks for protection of electrical components from transient over-voltages (discharging) such as lightning. Unreliability of the mean turn-on DC breakdown voltage and the run-to-run variability has been overcome successfully in the past by adding, for example, a radioactive source inside the tube. Radioisotopes provide a constant low level of free electrons, which trigger the breakdown. In the last decades, any concept using environmentally harmful compounds is not acceptable anymore and new solutions were searched. In our application, a cold field electron emitter source is used as the trigger for the gas discharge but with no activating compound on the two main electrodes. The patent literature describes in details the implementation of the so-called trigger wires (auxiliary electrodes) made of graphite, placed in between the two main electrodes, but no physical explanation has been given yet. We present experimental results, which show that stable cold field electron emission current in the high vacuum range originating from the nano-structured edge of the graphite layer is well correlated to the stable breakdown voltage of the GDT surge protector filled with a mixture of clean gases.