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Health economists conducting cancer-related research often use geocoded data to analyze natural experiments generated by policy changes. These natural experiments can provide causal interpretation under certain conditions. Despite public health benefit of this rigorous natural experiment methodology, data providers are often reluctant to provide geocoded data due to confidentiality concerns. In this paper, I provide an example of the value of natural experiments from e-cigarette research and show how this research was hindered by security concerns. While the tension between data access and security will not be resolved overnight, I offer two recommendations: 1) provide public access to aggregated data at area levels (e.g., state) where possible; 2) approve projects with enough time to allow for publication in journals with lengthy peer-review times; and 3) improve communication and transparency between data providers and the research community. The Foundations for Evidence Based Policymaking Act of 2018 also presents a unique opportunity for improving the ability of researchers to use geocoded data for natural experiment research without compromising data security.


Final manuscript version of an article published by Oxford University Press in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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