Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and the leading source of healthcare expenditure in the US and most other industrialised countries. Cholesterol lowering by pharmacological means prevents atherosclerotic plaque progression and has been shown to reduce both fatal and nonfatal coronary events in patients with or without coronary artery disease (CAD). Because of their excellent efficacy and safety profiles, the introduction of 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors (also known an 'statins') in 1987 raised hopes for demonstrating the survival benefit of cholesterol reduction. In the past decade, several large-scale placebo-controlled trials with statin therapy have revisited the relationship between cholesterol reduction, cardiovascular disease and mortality. The West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study (WOSCOPS) [pravastatin] and the Air Force/Texas Coronary Atherosclerosis Prevention Study (AFCAPS/TexCAPS) [lovastatin] have shown significant cardiovascular disease reduction in primary prevention trials of patients with elevated and normal cholesterol levels, respectively. The Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study (4S), the Long-Term Intervention with Pravastatin in Ischaemic Disease (LIPID) Study and the Cholesterol and Recurrent Events (CARE) trial [pravastatin] have shown significant cardiovascular disease reduction in patients with a previous history of CAD with high, moderate and normal cholesterol levels, respectively. Three of these studies (4S, WOSCOPS and LIPID) have shown significant reduction in all-cause mortality, while all the statin secondary prevention trials (4S, CARE and LIPID) have demonstrated significant reduction in cerebrovascular disease/ Earlier cholesterol reduction cost-effectiveness studies with nonstatin treatments (bile acid resins, fibrates, niacin and diet) suggested that only patients at extremely high risk could be treated with lipid therapy in a cost-effective manner. More recently, rigorous outcomes evidence demonstrates that statins, particularly for simvastatin for secondary prevention and lovastatin for primary prevention, have a broadly favourable cost-effectiveness profile. Based on US medical price levels and the available clinical trial data on statins, it would be cost effective [e.g. cost less than $US50,000/year of life saved] to intervene with statin therapy in any patient with an annual CAD risk exceeding 1%. This includes all patients with pre-existing CAD or diabetes mellitus, and many more primary prevention patients than are currently contemplated by the US National Cholesterol Education Panel treatment guidelines. Achieving such a goal will require enormous changes in patient education, clinical perspective, healthcare practice and healthcare finances. But any proven opportunity for saving the lives of 25% of those dying from cardiovascular disease each year deserves to be considered with the utmost seriousness and urgency.