In those commercials the bugs were all evil villains bent on making life miserable for Helen housewife. But she always got her revenge. Typically the bugs ran into (what they think was) the safety of a wall or other nook, only to be followed by the Raid cloud of doom. They died violently screaming "RAID!" as the deadly cloud descended.
One of the great things about the Internet is the chance it gives us to recall these old trivial bits of our heritage. In this vintage footage from YouTube, the Johnson Wax folks sympathetically provide gravestones for the hoardes of dead bugs.
I'm pretty sure these commercials had a subtle but deep, psychological impact on a generation of Americans. I think we all cherish the notion that even if we can't stop war, or end racial strife, or even silence the neighbor's barking dog, at least we can control the creepy bugs that pester us. Perhaps that's the psychological power behind these old commercials. Whatever the reason, the psychology must have worked because Raid is still with us, and a new generation of updated commercials continues the genre (e.g., the Orkin man commercials).
This way of thinking, however, continues to create problems for those of us today who promote integrated pest management (IPM). To most Americans, pest control means "killing bugs dead" (the old Raid mantra). The idea that it might be more effective to modify the environment to make it less conducive to pests is, frankly, boring, and not nearly as entertaining as the fog of death.
In a twist of irony, the bugs appear to be winning at least one front in the bug bomb war. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control looked at illnesses and injuries caused by TRFs (total release foggers) in eight states over six years (2001-2006). They found over 466 human injuries that appeared to be the result of overexposure to TRFs. Most (80%) of the incidents were considered low in severity, with 2% resulting in severe health impact or death.
The top causes for illness include inability or failure to vacate the premises before the TRF went off, coming back to the treated area too soon, unintentional discharge of the TRF, or setting off too many foggers at the same time. It seem that in many, or most cases, exposures occur because consumers don't follow label directions properly. The CDC notes in their recommendations that "IPM control strategies that prevent pests' access to food, water, and shelter need to be promoted and adopted. In addition, awareness of the hazards and proper use of TRFs need to be better communicated on TRF labels and in public media campaigns."
This is good advice, and something that pest control professionals should pass on to their customers. Doug VanGundy with Zoecon Corporation, a long-time manufacturer of less toxic pesticides (including some foggers) notes that TRF don't get nearly the kind of penetration into pest hideouts that the old Raid ads might suggest. "Today's water-based formulations don't produce the small particle sizes of earlier generation foggers," he said. "Although we believe foggers are still a viable product for consumers, professional application of insecticides via crack and crevice treatments and outdoor perimeter treatments to keep pests outdoors are probably best for most situations."
It's important to remember that foggers are designed principally for flying insects, or those on exposed surfaces. Fogging a home or apartment is just as likely to drive pests temporarily into harborages, or even cause them to spread to neighboring units. This would be especially true for cockroaches and bed bugs, who spend most of their time in cracks and crevices with little air exchange.
The old pesticide ads may be entertaining, but they're not good pest control. Foggers may have a place, but if you misuse them or expect them to solve all your insect problems the insects will be the last ones laughing.