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Rockville Centre convenience store worker arrested, charged with underage vape sale

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Rockville Centre police arrested an employee at the store on 165 Maple Ave. for selling vape products to underage customers.
Rockville Centre police arrested an employee at the store on 165 Maple Ave. for selling vape products to underage customers.
Ben Strack/Herald

Rockville Centre Police arrested a convenience store employee who allegedly sold vaping products to people under 21 in the midst of a battle by community members to curb vape use among local youth.

After conducting an investigation on April 4, police found that two illegal sales of about $100 of vaping products, including JUUL vaping devices and JUUL liquid nicotine pods, were sold to underage customers at 165 Maple Ave. The employee, Haris Manzoor, was arrested and charged with four counts of underage sale of liquid nicotine and electronic cigarettes.

“We wanted to go and investigate and make an arrest as soon as possible to hopefully curtail any future sales,” said Dennis Clark, a Rockville Centre police officer for nine years who became the department’s youth officer in January. “We’ll be doing a follow-up.”

He did “a thorough investigation and set this sting up to target an important and troubling new issue in our village,” Rockville Centre Police Commissioner James Vafeades said in a news release. “…Our department will continue to do everything that we can to keep Rockville Centre’s children safe.”

Clark told the Herald he had gotten complaints from community members about underage people buying vape-related products at the store, and when examining surveillance footage, he saw youths going in and out of the establishment. “We had a couple of underage agents to go in and buy, and both were successful,” Clark explained, “so that’s why we were able to make an arrest and hopefully curb some of this vaping that has become too common with today’s youth.”

The arrest comes as the Rockville Centre Coalition For Youth continues its push to educate the community — primarily teenagers and their parents — about the dangers of vapes, or electronic cigarettes. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services launched an educational webpage on e-cigarettes targeting young people, which states that in 2018, one in five high-school students reported using e-cigarettes in the past month.

At a recent talk at South Side High School co-sponsored by the Coalition, Dr. Stephen Dewey, a research professor in the New York University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, noted that nano-particles of nickel, chromium and cadmium found in vaping devices go into users’ body and get trapped in their kidneys.

Ruthanne McCormack, project coordinator for the Coalition, said she had heard from middle-school students and parents that teenagers were not only buying vape products from the Maple Avenue convenience store, but down the street at the Village Green, from high-schoolers. The Coalition continues to advocate against vaping, McCormack added, noting that some local stores continue to sell certain flavored Juul pods, despite the company suspending the sale of them in brick-and-mortar stores last November.

“I hope that this sets an example for other merchants that if they are doing this, they’re going to face penalties and they’re going to get caught,” she said.

Most of the complaints of the underage sale of vape products involved this store, Clark said, but they are on the lookout for other establishments who may be selling them illegally. “As they come up,” he said, “we’ll address them.”