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Today’s Headlines: Big Tobacco stokes fears in Black communities to keep menthol cigarettes

Protesters hold signs including one that reads "No Ban on Menthol."
Demonstrators rally in downtown Los Angeles in August 2020 in opposition to California Senate Bill 793. They contend that the ban on the sale of flavored tobacco statewide — including menthol cigarettes — would unfairly target African Americans. The bill briefly became law, but a successful petition drive will require voters to approve it in November.
(Ringo Chiu / Alamy)
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By Elvia Limón

Hello, it’s Monday, April 25, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

How Big Tobacco used George Floyd and Eric Garner to stoke fear among Black smokers

Newport cigarette maker Reynolds American’s multibillion-dollar market is under threat. About 150 cities and counties have placed some sort of restriction on the sale of menthol cigarettes, the flavor of choice for the vast majority of Black smokers. If California votes to prohibit the sale of menthols in November, it would be the second state to do so.

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The Food and Drug Administration has drafted a national ban that could follow in the next few years. Since last summer, the Los Angeles Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have tracked strategic efforts across the country by Reynolds American to keep menthol cigarettes in the hands of smokers.

The company has hired a team of Black lobbyists and consultants and sponsored the organization led by civil rights activist and MSNBC political show host the Rev. Al Sharpton. Those figures have in turn stoked fears among Black communities about what the bans could mean.

Top U.S. officials meet Zelensky in Kyiv on a somber Orthodox Easter

With fighting raging in the eastern and southern parts of the country, Ukrainians marked a somber Orthodox Easter as President Volodymyr Zelensky met with the most senior U.S. delegation to arrive in the capital since the war erupted two months ago.

Zelensky was making the case for additional military and diplomatic support in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, who traveled to Kyiv under extraordinary security measures. The meeting was confirmed by an aide to Zelensky, Oleksiy Arestovych, speaking to Ukrainian television.

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Zelensky said more powerful weaponry was increasingly vital as Russia appears to be expanding its war goal to seize the entire southern coast of Ukraine in addition to the eastern Donbas region. Although U.S. officials did not comment publicly on the trip ahead of it, President Biden issued a statement praising the fact that Ukraine “still stands” as the war enters its third month.

More on Ukraine

California’s biggest election this year could be the race for attorney general

The most contentious and closely watched California election in 2022 is likely to be the race for attorney general. The progressive incumbent Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta will have to defend his record against candidates running tough-on-crime campaigns, including Anne Marie Schubert.

Gov. Gavin Newsom tapped Bonta last year after then-Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra was appointed U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. Now, Bonta faces the challenge of being “the incumbent, but not the incumbent who was elected,” said Wesley Hussey, a Sacramento State political science professor, possibly forcing the Democrat to spend much of his first statewide campaign defending his record in the Legislature.

Already, Bonta’s opponents have tried to characterize him as a far-left politician of the same ilk as two of the state’s most embattled local prosecutors, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascón and San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin. Both men face recall efforts.

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More politics

  • The California Republican Party endorsed state Sen. Brian Dahle for governor, but it was not without controversy. Some delegates muttered that establishment party leaders were trying to hand him the win.
  • Newly revealed recordings of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying he would urge then-President Trump to resign from office in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection have sparked much political heat, but so far appear not to threaten the California Republican’s hold on power. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren has slammed McCarthy as a “liar and a traitor” over the recordings.

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting and the latest action in Sacramento.

L.A. County homeless deaths surged 56% in the pandemic’s first year. Overdoses are largely to blame

Deaths of homeless people in Los Angeles County soared by 56% in the year after the start of the pandemic, driven primarily by an increase in overdoses, according to a study published this month.

Between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, 1,988 deaths of people experiencing homelessness were reported, up from 1,271 in the 12 months prior, pre-pandemic, according to the Department of Public Health study. The L.A. County report, unlike in past years, does not provide a homeless death rate due to restrictions put on the annual homeless count.

The numbers in L.A. County mirror figures recorded in San Francisco over a similar time period; between March 2020 and March 2021, 331 homeless people died in the city, more than twice the number reported in any previous year, according to a study coauthored by scientists at UC San Francisco, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and New York University.

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Tech titans want the richest Californians to pay for pandemic preparedness

A measure likely to be on California’s November ballot would tax the state’s wealthiest residents and fund public health initiatives, with the ambitious goal of preventing another pandemic from ripping across the country. The campaign is being spearheaded by Gabe Bankman-Fried, a former Wall Street trader, and Max Henderson, a startup investor and former Google executive.

The proposed tax would generate as much as $15 billion over 10 years, according to a state government analysis of the measure. Voter support for raising taxes appears tepid, however.

Californians in 2020 rejected a measure that sought to raise some commercial property taxes, and taxpayer advocates argue that opposition to higher taxes has intensified as gas, housing and other costs have risen.

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

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OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

Lethal drug cocktails and two women left for dead bring L.A. cops back to old rape cases. When men dropped the lifeless bodies of Christy Giles and Hilda Cabrales Arzola outside hospitals, police immediately suspected foul play. The two men arrested as accessories were released from jail. But the man at the center of the case, David Pearce, remains in custody, charged with raping or assaulting four women before he ever met Giles and Cabrales.

He called Biden a rapist. Now his deleted tweets are shaking up the city controller’s race. Two years ago, certified public accountant Kenneth Mejia was an activist with a lot to say about the presidential campaign, especially then-Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden. Now, as a candidate for city controller in the June 7 election, Mejia is on the receiving end of attacks from his rivals over his political messages.

A snake wrangler aims to ease the public’s fear by safely relocating reptiles. Bruce Ireland, 57, heads up the Snake Wranglers, an all-volunteer group of Coastal North County snake-lovers who are on call to remove these wayward reptiles from residential neighborhoods and release them unharmed miles away in undeveloped areas. The wranglers charge nothing for their services.

CALIFORNIA

An $85-million payment was OKd in a ‘Zoombombing’ case that included porn in Bible study class. Plaintiffs in the case said Zoom improperly shared data with third-party software from companies; claimed to have end-to-end encryption when it did not; and failed to prevent Zoombombing — disruptions of Zoom meetings by outsiders.

Astronaut Charlie Duke attends a San Diego gala to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of Apollo’s last missions. The U.S. is the only nation to have sent crewed spacecraft to the moon, an achievement that Duke, a retired Air Force test pilot and longtime businessman, is trying to keep alive.

‘I’m a national champion!’ Granada Hills Charter wins U.S. Academic Decathlon for the ninth time. The Decathlon involves 10 competitions that revolve around a single theme in seven subject areas: math, science, economics, literature, art, music and social science. Each student takes 50-question multiple-choice tests back to back.

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NATION-WORLD

To Europe’s relief, France’s Emmanuel Macron wins — but the far right gains. The centrist incumbent will beat far-right rival Marine Le Pen in a race that was clouded by the Ukraine war and saw a surge in support for extremist ideas.

El Salvador’s president wants to extend the state of emergency. The original 30-day state of emergency approved in late March restricts the right to gather, to be informed of rights and have access to a lawyer. It extends to 15 days the time that someone can be held without charges.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tests the limits of his combative style in the Disney feud. In retribution for Disney’s criticism of a new state law condemned by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” DeSantis signed legislation stripping the theme park of a decades-old special agreement that allowed it to govern itself. To critics, such a raw exercise of power suggests DeSantis is operating with a sense of invincibility that could come back to haunt him.

Ten were found dead after a Japanese tour boat with 26 aboard sank. There were two crew and 24 passengers, including two children, on the 19-ton Kazu 1 when it ran into trouble while traveling off the western coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula. The coast guard said the 10 victims — seven men and three women — were adults.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Iglesias, left, with his beloved dogs Risa, left and Vinnie. A “Funko Pop!” exclusive, right
Gabriel Iglesias, left, with his beloved dogs Risa, left and Vinnie. A “Funko Pop!” exclusive, right, will be available at his Dodger Stadium show, on the weekend of May 6.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
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After 25 years in showbiz, Gabriel Iglesias was ready for a ‘huge gamble.’ Enter Netflix. Iglesias, or Fluffy, as he’s more commonly known, will be the first comedian to perform at Dodger Stadium. His sold-out stand is one of the numerous highlights of Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival, a star-studded, citywide cavalcade of comedy that launches Thursday, with a preview night Wednesday.

‘Barry’ is at its best when Barry is at his worst. And Season 3 is a master class. Revenge or redemption? That is the question hanging over “Barry” when it returns Sunday after a three-year hiatus. Barry (Bill Hader) is still hoping to leave his killer life behind for a career in the dramatic arts, but at this point, he’ll settle for convincing himself and others that he’s not a bad person.

L.A. Times Book Festival: Janelle Monáe feels like she’s living her ‘second Earth life.’ She’s an accomplished musician, activist, actor, fashion icon — and, with the release of “The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer,” a published author. Monáe opened up about her struggles with feeling abandoned and rejected, which stemmed from her father’s crack addiction and absence from her life.

Carl Bernstein tells the Festival of Books crowd we have ‘opportunities as well as loss.’ The talk focused on Bernstein’s memoir, “Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom,” published in January by Henry Holt. But Bernstein continually wandered down interesting side paths, flitting over moments in his fascinating life, emphasizing the importance of good investigative reporting and insisting “the truth is not neutral.”

BUSINESS

They’ll turn your gas guzzler into an EV. But be prepared to wait. High gasoline prices and concerns about climate change and pollution are pushing some drivers to turn vintage cars into electric vehicles. Car lovers are feeding an EV conversion boom, but there aren’t enough companies to meet demand. Waiting lists are sometimes two years long.

$1-million milestone: Orange County median home price hits seven figures. The threshold was crossed when the Orange County median sales price for new and existing houses, condos and townhomes rose from $985,000 in February to $1,020,000 in March, according to recent data. It constitutes a 22% jump in median price from a year prior.

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SPORTS

Angel Stadium’s land sale clears its final hurdle with a housing agency settlement. The other major hurdle was cleared last month, when an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled the city had not violated the Brown Act — the state’s government transparency law — in negotiating the sale.

Miguel Cabrera becomes the 33rd big leaguer and the first Venezuelan to reach 3,000 career hits. Still an imposing presence at age 39, Cabrera made history by grounding an opposite-field single to right through the shift in the first inning of Detroit’s game against Colorado.

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OPINION

Angry parents are ruining youth sports. Here’s how to rein them in. Who can blame referees for quitting because they aren’t willing to put up with abuse and assaults? Some have called referee abuse “a national crisis.” More broadly, others have labeled youth sports “a cauldron of yelling and hysteria.”

Don’t pretend we’re ‘back to normal.’ Fight for cleaner air to prevent COVID. We know future waves will threaten us all again. To prepare, we need to improve ventilation to make environments lower risk for COVID and improve case tracking so we can detect surges early enough to stop them.

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

Natasha de Beauvesier of Moreno Valley indulges in a strawberry covered in chocolate and bacon.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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Huzzah, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire hath returned for the first time since 2019, throwing open its entrance to lusty revelers, artisans, swarthy pirates and Angelenos simply looking to taste some of the finest meads and festival fare in all the land. Vendors are hawking flower crowns, drinking horns, herbal tea blends and artisanal wildflower honeys while the pop-up taverns declaring “COLD DRYNKS” attend to parched wayfarers.

Since its founding in 1963, more than 5 million people have attended the fair, which began as a humble backyard gathering in Laurel Canyon, founded by then-husband-and-wife team Phyllis and Ron Patterson. This year it returns after a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An estimated 20,000 people doth gather each weekend, according to the event’s organizers, and the spring festival will continue through May 22 in Irwindale.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Clergymen join a crowd in Montebello Park in 1987
Clergymen join a crowd in Montebello Park in 1987 to hear speeches on the massacre of Armenians.
(Los Angeles Times)

This month marks 107 years since the Ottoman Empire rounded up approximately 250 Armenian intellectuals and leaders, eventually killing most. In the months that followed, civil and military officials forced the mass deportation of Armenian villages. Estimates of the number of Armenians who perished vary widely, with historians offering a range of about 700,000 to 1.2 million.

Southern California is home to one of the largest Armenian diasporas, with the first significant wave of immigrants arriving after escaping the genocide. In 2000, an East Hollywood neighborhood was designated Little Armenia. Glendale is home to the biggest Armenian American community in the region, in addition to significant populations in Burbank, Pasadena, Montebello and La Crescenta.

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We appreciate that you took the time to read Today’s Headlines! Comments or ideas? Feel free to drop us a note at headlines@latimes.com.

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