NEW YORK (AP) -- With smokers exiled 12 years ago to New York City's sidewalks, some took up electronic cigarettes as a way to come in from the cold. They could puff away once again in restaurants, offices or even libraries without running afoul of the city's ban on smoking in indoor public places.
Now they're down to their last few puffs with the City Council's 43-8 vote Thursday to expand the smoking ban to include e-cigarettes. Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the measure, which he has pushed throughout his 12 years in office. The ban would then take effect in four months.
Also Thursday, the council paved the way for an eventual ban on plastic foam containers and approved the creation of a website that will help the public track federal dollars budgeted for Superstorm Sandy-related damages. The flurry of activity - more than two dozen introductions and resolutions were passed - came on the council's last legislative session of the year.
Speaker Christine Quinn said before the vote on e-cigarettes that the evidence on whether nicotine inhalers are truly safe is insufficient. She said allowing the devices in places where cigarettes are now banned also could "renormalize" smoking and undermine the public perception that the habit is now acceptable only in the privacy of one's own home.
"We don't want a step backward with that," she said.
The vote came amid sharp disagreement within public health circles over how to treat e-cigarettes. The tobacco-free smokes heat up a chemical solution and emit vapors while giving smokers their nicotine fix.
Manufacturers say the mist is harmless, and most scientists agree that regular smokers who switch to e-cigarettes are lowering their health risk substantially.
The devices, though, aren't heavily regulated. And experts say consumers can't yet be sure whether they are safe either for users or people exposed to second-hand vapor puffs.
Like regular cigarettes, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is also highly addictive. People who use them may be unable to quit, even if they want to. That has raised concerns that a new generation of young people could gravitate toward e-cigarettes and wind up hooked for life or even switch to tobacco cigarettes.
The Food and Drug Administration has said it intends to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products but has yet to issue any rules, leaving manufacturers free to advertise while regular cigarette ads are banned.
Several states, including New Jersey, Arkansas, Utah and North Dakota, have already expanded their indoor smoking bans to include e-cigarettes. Other bans have been proposed in several big cities. About half of the states restrict sales to minors.
At a City Council hearing earlier this month, city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley urged the council to approve a ban, saying the city couldn't risk rolling back the progress it has made driving down smoking rates.
The American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids agreed. Other public health advocates did not. They said that in a nation where roughly 1 in 5 adults are hooked on indisputably deadly cigarettes, safer alternatives should be embraced, not discouraged, even if science hasn't rendered a final verdict.
E-cigarette manufacturers say they don't believe their products will be used as a gateway drug to cigarettes, and they have criticized New York's proposed ban as a rush to judgment.
"Companies like us want to be responsible, but when you have municipalities prematurely judge what should be and what shouldn't be, based not on the science, I think it does the public a disservice," said Miguel Martin, president of e-cigarette brand Logic.
While the measure's advocates say e-cigarettes resemble tobacco smokes enough to confuse restaurateurs trying to enforce smoking laws and send a message of social acceptability, manufacturers say that reasoning is muddled.
"That's like saying we shouldn't be able to sell water because it looks like vodka," Martin said.
The foam bill allows lawmakers to ban the product - technically called expanded polystyrene foam - if after a yearlong study the commissioner of the Sanitation Department finds the material can't be recycled effectively. It takes a long time to break down in landfills, and there's debate over how readily it can be recycled once it's soiled by food.
An online database to track the use of Sandy funds already exists and is operated by the Bloomberg administration. Thursday's bill will update the website, creating a searchable, interactive online tool that allows users to look-up by zip code information about how federal Sandy dollars are being spent.
Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Potential victims of credit card fraud tied to Target's security breach said they had trouble contacting the discounter through its website and call centers.
Angry Target customers expressed their displeasure in comments on the company's Facebook page. Some even threatened to stop shopping at the store. Target apologized on Facebook and said it's working hard to resolve the problem and is adding more workers to field calls and help solve website issues.
The fury and frustration come as the nation's second-largest discounter acknowledged Thursday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The theft is the second-largest credit card breach in U.S. history, exceeded only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJX Cos. That incident affected at least 45.7 million card users.
Target disclosed the theft a day after reports that the company was investigating a breach. The retailer's data-security troubles and its ensuing public relations nightmare threaten to drive off holiday shoppers during the company's busiest time of year.
Christopher Browning, of Chesterfield, Va., said he was the victim of credit card fraud earlier this week and believes it was tied to a purchase he made at Target with his Visa card on Black Friday. When he called Visa on Thursday, the card issuer could not confirm his suspicions. He said he hasn't been able to get through to Target's call center.
On Monday, Browning received a call from his bank's anti-fraud unit saying there were two attempts to use his credit card in California - one at a casino in Tracey, Calif., for $8,000 and the other at a casino in Pacheco, for $3,000. Both occurred on Sunday and both were denied. He canceled his credit card and plans to use cash.
"I won't shop at Target again until the people behind this theft are caught or the reasons for the breach are identified and fixed," he said.
Customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data included customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the embedded code on the magnetic strip found on the backs of cards, Target said.
There was no indication the three- or four-digit security numbers visible on the back of the card were affected, Target said. The data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.
Eric Hausman, a Target spokesman, said the company is continuing "an ongoing investigation."
Target hasn't disclosed exactly how the breach occurred but said it has fixed the problem.
Given the millions of dollars that companies such as Target spend implementing credit-card security measures each year, Avivah Litan, a security analyst with Gartner Research said she believes the theft may have been an inside job.
"The fact this breach can happen with all of their security in place is really alarming," Litan said.
Other experts theorize that Target's network was hacked and infiltrated from the outside.
Whatever the case, Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronics Transaction Association, which represents the payments technology industry, said data breaches like Target's are generally "heavily organized and sophisticated."
Annual losses from global credit and debit card fraud are on the rise. Last year, it reached $11.27 billion, up 11.4 percent from the previous year, according to The Nilson Report, which tracks global payments. Even so, Nilson's publisher David Robertson pointed out that fraud still accounts for less than 6 cents of every $100 spent.
Target, which has almost 1,800 stores in the U.S. and 124 in Canada, said it immediately told authorities and financial institutions once it became aware of the breach on Dec. 15. The company is teaming with a third-party forensics firm to investigate and prevent future problems.
The credit card breach poses a serious problem and threatens to scare away shoppers who worry about the safety of their personal data.
Target's stock dropped more than 2 percent, or $1.40, to $62.15 on Thursday.
"This is close to the worst time to have it happen," said Jeremy Robinson-Leon, a principal at Group Gordon, a corporate and crisis public relations firm. "If I am a Target customer, I think I would be much more likely to go to a competitor over the next few days, rather than risk the potential to have my information be compromised."
Target advised customers Thursday to check their statements carefully. Those who see suspicious charges should report them to their credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. Cases of identity theft can also be reported to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.
"Target's first priority is preserving the trust of our guests, and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence," Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said Thursday in a statement.
Brianna Byrnes of Kansas City, Mo., a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a call center worker, said she made a Target purchase during the affected period. The situation made her "a little bit" nervous, but she still plans to shop for toys at the store, she said.
"I've never had anyone steal my identity. I guess it's taking a risk."
The incident is particularly troublesome for Target because it has used its store-branded credit and debit cards as a marketing tool to attract shoppers with a 5 percent discount.
During an earnings call in November, the company said some 20 percent of store customers as of October have the Target-branded cards. In fact, households that activate a Target-branded card have increased their spending at the store by about 50 percent on average, the company said.
"This is how Target is getting more customers in the stores," said Brian Sozzi, CEO and Chief Equities Strategist. "It's telling people to use the card. It's been a big win. If they lose that trust, that person goes to Wal-Mart."
TJX Cos., which runs stores such as T.J. Maxx and Marshall's, had a breach that began in July 2005 and exposed at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards to possible fraud. The breach was not detected until December 2006.
Without anyone noticing, one or more intruders installed code on the discount retailer's systems to methodically collect and transmit account data from millions of cards.
In 2009, TJX agreed to pay $9.75 million in a settlement with multiple states.
Litan doubts the breach will have much effect on Target's sales, noting that TJX launched sales promotions immediately following the news of its breach. The effort increased sales.
"People care more about discounts than security," Litan said.
Associated Press writers Michelle Chapman in New York and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- In one of the most conservative states in the nation, supporters of gay marriage are pondering the unthinkable: a victory, or at least not a loss.
A proposal to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriage has sparked a flurry of phone banks and appeals to big-money donors as the state prepares to become a 2014 battleground on an issue that has largely been decided in other states.
Indiana is one of just four states that ban gay marriage in statute only; 29 others have constitutional bans. But none of the other states with statutory bans - Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming - face the pressure in place in Indiana, where lawmakers must approve a proposed ban and send it to voters in November unless they want to restart the process from scratch.
That the issue's fate is even in question is remarkable in Indiana, which in recent years has become a model of conservative causes ranging from school vouchers to right to work. In 2011, state lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment in the first of two required votes, and with Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers, its final passage seemed a slam-dunk.
But the tides have shifted. Voters in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Illinois have approved gay marriage, and polls have shown increasing numbers of Indiana voters oppose a constitutional ban even though most still oppose gay marriage.
"Everyone else in the country is moving toward more equality. Indiana is kind of the last stand of folks that are trying to put something like this into their constitution," said Megan Robertson, a veteran Indiana Republican operative tapped to manage Freedom Indiana, a bipartisan coalition working to block the ban.
Opponents have argued for years that the constitutional ban is unnecessary and will paint the state as intolerant and hurt businesses' efforts to recruit top talent. They're especially concerned about a provision in the proposed amendment that also bans civil unions and employee benefits for same-sex couples.
Volunteers with Freedom Indiana are staffing nightly phone banks and calling lawmakers who supported the amendment the first time in hopes of changing their minds before the Legislature reconvenes next month. Top companies including drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. and engine-maker Cummins Inc. have contributed $100,000 each to the campaign. And a recent fundraiser featuring Mary Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, was sponsored by some of the state's top GOP money men, including the campaign finance chairman for Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
Phil Cooper, a 63-year-old retired bus driver from Bloomington whose adult daughter has sometimes identified as a lesbian, said he has been making phone calls for Freedom Indiana two to three times each week since September.
"It really, really troubles me to see her being singled out because of that single characteristic," he said of his daughter.
He said he is "cautiously optimistic" about blocking the amendment and said getting more information out about its effects, including the ban on employer benefits for same-sex pairs, has helped turn the momentum.
At least two lawmakers who voted for the amendment in 2011 have said they will oppose it next year. Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said last year that placing the ban in the constitution would not be a "productive" use of time for state lawmakers. And state Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, told The Shelbyville News last month that he made a mistake in supporting the amendment last time and "to put that amendment in the constitution and to lock down generations with bigotry is wrong."
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he still supports the marriage ban but has been listening to his two sons, who oppose the measure. And while House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says he expects a vote by lawmakers on the issue next year, he notably left the issue out of the House Republican Caucus' 2014 legislative agenda.
Supporters of the amendment, who have distributed fliers about the issue to churches, contend a constitutional ban would prevent future lawmakers from changing the law. They say Freedom Indiana's business argument is a scare tactic and point to reports showing top job growth coming mostly in states that already have constitutional bans on gay marriage.
Even if national attitudes on the issue have changed, they say, Indiana residents still firmly oppose gay marriage and should be allowed to weigh in.
"The future of marriage belongs in the hands of voters," said Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of Indiana.
Pence, who is well-known for his social and religious conservatism, says he supports traditional marriage but has largely stayed on the sidelines.
The outcome of the debate could hinge on which side winds up with the most clout: the fledgling Freedom Indiana group, with the weight - and money - of corporate Indiana behind it, or the supporters, who have decades of lobbying experience among them and deep ties in the Statehouse to trade on.
"We don't have a half-million dollars to pour into this, like the other side does," Clark acknowledged.
The pressure Indiana Republicans feel makes sense, given that they likely face the most peril in how the issue plays out. If the amendment fails in the Legislature, incumbent Republicans could face the wrath of conservatives in the May primaries. And if the issue makes it to the ballot, it has the potential to rev up the Democratic base in November's general election in a way that could ripple up and down the ticket.